- Associated Press - Thursday, February 15, 2024

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s Parliament is to vote Thursday to legalize same-sex civil marriage in a first for an Orthodox Christian country and despite opposition from the influential Greek Church.

As lawmakers debated the bill for a second day, opinion polls suggest that most Greeks support the proposed reform by a narrow margin. The issue has failed to trigger deep divisions in a country more worried about the high cost of living.

The landmark bill drafted by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ′ center-right government is backed by four left-wing parties, including the main opposition Syriza.

That would secure it a comfortable majority in the 300-seat Parliament. Several majority and left-wing lawmakers are expected to abstain or vote against the reform - but not enough to kill the bill. Three small far-right parties and the Soviet-inspired Communist Party have rejected the draft law.

Supporters and opponents of the bill have announced plans to hold separate gatherings outside Parliament later Thursday.

“People who have been invisible will finally be made visible around us. And with them, many children (will) finally find their rightful place,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told lawmakers ahead of the vote. “Both parents of same-sex couples do not yet have the same legal opportunities to provide their children with what they need,” he added. “To be able to pick them up from school, to be able to travel, to go to the doctor, or take them to the hospital. … That is what we are fixing.”

The bill would confer full parental rights on married same-sex partners with children. But it precludes gay couples from parenthood through surrogate mothers in Greece - an option currently available to women who can’t have children for health reasons.

Governing New Democracy lawmaker Maria Syrengela said the reform would redress a long-standing injustice for same-sex couples and their children.

“And let’s reflect on what these people have been through, spending so many years in the shadows, entangled in bureaucratic procedures,” she said.

Polls show that while most Greeks agree to same-sex weddings they also reject extending parenthood through surrogacy to male couples. Same-sex civil partnerships have been allowed in Greece since 2015. But that only conferred legal guardianship to the biological parents of children in those relationships, leaving their partners in a bureaucratic limbo.

The main opposition to the new bill has come from the traditionalist Church of Greece — which also disapproves of heterosexual civil marriage.

Church officials have centered their criticism on the bill’s implications for traditional family values, and argue that potential legal challenges could lead to a future extension of surrogacy rights to gay couples.

The head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, suggested Wednesday that the ballot should be held by roll call. This would enable constituents to see exactly how their lawmakers voted.

That’s going to happen anyway, following motions later in the day by far-right parties and - independently and for different reasons - Syriza. The main opposition leader, Stefanos Kasselakis, who is gay, has threatened disciplinary action against any Syriza lawmaker who doesn’t back the bill.

Church supporters and conservative organizations have staged small protests against the proposed law, and members of far-right groups have called for a demonstration outside Parliament later Thursday.

Politically, the same-sex marriage law is not expected to harm Mitsotakis‘ government, which won easy re-election last year after capturing much of the centrist vote.

A stronger challenge comes from ongoing protests by farmers angry at high production costs, and intense opposition from many students to the planned scrapping of a state monopoly on university education.

Nevertheless, Parliament is expected to approve the university bill later this month, and opinion polls indicate that most Greeks support it.

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Associated Press reporters Derek Gatopoulos and Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed to this report.

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