The Greek Parliament’s vote to extend civil unions to same-sex couples is an historic and important step in the right direction, but falls short of guaranteeing full equality with married couples, said Amnesty International.
“The passing of this law represents a small but hard-won victory for activists in Greece, who have fought tirelessly for years for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“This law means that the State acknowledges that same-sex relationships exist, and that they matter. It sends a message of hope not only to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, but to everyone fighting for justice and equality. The message is that Greece is becoming more tolerant.”
The new law, which was strongly opposed by the Greek Orthodox Church and several political parties, recognizes partners of a civil union agreement as next of kin and enables same-sex couples to enjoy some of the same rights granted to married couples. These include hospital visitation rights, emergency medical decisions, and inheritance rights.
Amnesty International stresses that the fight for LGBTI rights is far from over and urges the Greek government to guarantee all rights, including equality before the law (including marriage), adoption rights and legal gender recognition for transgender people.
“Despite this first step, LGBTI people in Greece still live in a climate of hostility from which the authorities are failing to protect them adequately. Physical attacks are on the rise, hate speech is common and goes unchecked by the authorities. Even displays of affection between same-sex couples are censored on television,” said Gauri van Gulik.
The NGO Colour Youth told Amnesty International that reported attacks against LGBTI people have more than tripled in 2015 compared to 2014. Reported attacks include beatings, shootings, and rapes because of individuals’ real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
The legislation also fails to provide legal gender recognition to transgender people.
“The rights of every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons must be fully respected and protected. No one should experience discrimination or violence because of who they are, who they love, or how they express their gender. The Greek government should use this momentum to provide what activists have been bravely fighting for: nothing less than full equality.”
In 2008 the Greek government introduced civil unions as an alternative to marriage, but the law applied only to heterosexual couples. In November 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the legislation discriminated against the applicants’ enjoyment of their right to private life on grounds of sexual orientation, amounting to a breach of Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Due to non-implementation of the ruling, a new lawsuit by 162 couples was initiated and is currently ongoing.
Amnesty International calls on all states to end discrimination in civil marriage laws based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In March 2015, Amnesty International met with the Minister of Justice in Greece and urged him to combat discrimination towards LGBTI persons including introducing full marriage equality and legal gender recognition of transgender people.
In June 2015, the Minister of Justice announced that it would legislate for civil partnership rights for all couples. On December 15, LGBTI NGOs made interventions to the Parliamentary Committee on what they found lacking from the draft law, leading to some new commitments including the establishment of drafting committees for the legal recognition of gender identity and the right to found a family for same-sex people, a commitment which Amnesty International urges the Greek government to fulfil.