The right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in Greece has faced off against the country's top justice official, who says current legislation forbids same-sex couples from tying the knot. Setting off a storm of controversy, the mayor of Tilos, a tiny Dodecanese island near Rhodes, defied the ruling New Democracy government and officiated the first-ever same-sex weddings in Greece on June 3.
One lesbian and one gay couple were married in two landmark civil ceremonies, both officiated by Mayor Anastasios Aliferis. "The civil ceremonies have been registered and the licences have been issued," Aliferis told reporters, pointing to a loophole in Greece's 26-year-old family legislation (law 125/1982) that legalised civil ceremonies without explicitly stating that such a union may only be entered into by a man and a woman.
Newly-married Evangelia Vlami, an outspoken lesbian and gay-rights activist, said she and her partner decided to tie the knot to send a strong message to society and to encourage more same-sex couples to do the same.
"Why did I get married?" she told an Athens press conference on June 5. "Because we [gays and lesbians] have every right to do so."
Dimitris Tsarbounis, who also married his partner at the Tilos town hall, said he knows dozens of gay couples who also want to tie the knot. "The first gay and lesbian marriages have been held in Greece and that's a fact no one can deny," he added.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Organisation of Greece (OLKE), a lobby group founded in 2004, has vowed to continue its battle for same-sex unions. "Congratulations to the mayor of Tilos," said Marios Iliakis, a spokesperson for the group.
"Some people are trying to find ways to prove the two civil ceremonies are illegal and to prevent more, but we will continue." Political problems The sanctioning of same-sex unions has divided religious leaders, MPs and Greeks alike.
The Orthodox Church of Greece has strongly objected to it. Metropolitan Amvrosios of Kalavryta, for instance, issued a harsh statement on his blog (http: //mkka.blogspot.com) on June 3. "Who can assure me that tomorrow we will not see a marriage between a man and his dog?" posted Amvrosios.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis rushed to prevent more mayors from officiating civil ceremonies between gay and lesbian couples. The minister sent urgent circulars to mayors across the country notifying them that same-sex civil ceremonies are illegal.
In a similar vein, Supreme Court prosecutor George Sanidas issued a statement against same-sex unions. "It is unthinkable and unacceptable," he said, referring to a clause in the constitution (article 21) which defines that the purpose of marriage is to create a family. "Article 21 of the constitution protects the family as the bedrock of preservation and advancement of the nation, as well as marriage... [and] it is understood that this is through heterosexual marriages," he added.
Arguing against Sanidas' line of reasoning, however, critics say that this would also outlaw heterosexual marriages in which the couples decide not to have children either because they do not want to become parents or because they are unable to conceive.
Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, who is also the president of the Central Union of Municipalities (KEDKE), called on the government to clear the air. "The role of mayors is not to create laws but unswervingly implement the laws of the state," he said. "The state is, therefore, obliged to clarify the situation in terms of either the institution or the interpretation. Agitation is of benefit to no one."
Nevertheless, no charges have yet been filed against the mayor of Tilos nor have the marriage licences been revoked by the authorities. "Isn't it interesting how, even though [the state] insists that the civil ceremonies were illegal, no charges have been filed," said Grigoris Va