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HomeWorld HeadlinesFor rights campaigner in Greece, same-sex marriage recognition follows decades of struggle

For rights campaigner in Greece, same-sex marriage recognition follows decades of struggle

ATHENS, Greece — Years before starting a family of her own, Stella Belia was already waging a tireless campaign for legal recognition. Her fight may finally be over this week — a few months shy of her twin boys’ 17th birthday.

Greek lawmakers are expected to legalize same-sex marriage in a parliament vote Thursday, with a rare display of cross-party collaboration.

Approval would make Greece the first Orthodox Christian country to take that step, clearing multiple legal hurdles for gay couples who already have or want to have children.

“I’ve been fighting for this ever since I figured out who I was,” says Belia, a 57-year-old drama teacher with a gruff voice and an easy laugh.

“And it’s a great relief to say we’ve finally made it,” she said. “But it is tiresome, very tiresome to fight for something that’s an obvious right — to suffer for something that other people are just handed — and have to fight so hard to get it.”

Belia split with her female partner when her sons were aged 11 but she considers her to be the boys’ other mother.

Although civil partnerships were extended to gay couples in Greece nearly a decade ago, only the biological parents of children in those relationships are currently recognized as legal guardians.

The issue of children’s rights, including the publicized plight of cancer survivors in a same-sex relationship, helped nudge public opinion toward narrowly favoring the bill that was sponsored by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservative government.

But it also triggered a strong reaction from the country’s Orthodox Church. Representing Greece’s dominant faith, the Church argues the marriage bill would confuse parental roles and weaken the traditional family.

The Church petitioned lawmakers to reconsider in a public appeal also read out at Sunday services.

Several prominent bishops have taken a tougher line, warning that they will refuse to baptize the children of gay couples. They allied with far-right political parties and traditionalist groups to stage public demonstrations.

Protester Chara Giannakantonaki said she felt compelled to attend a rally held in front of parliament last Sunday.

“Every minority already has its rights guaranteed. There is no issue. They don’t need (same-sex) marriage. They just want to desecrate whatever has remained sacred in Greece: Our Church, our families and our children,” she said. “But children are a red line and we will never accept this.”

The Mitsotakis government is facing dissent among conservatives over the bill and will need support from the centrist and left-wing opposition to secure the 151-vote minimum in the 300-member parliament.

Dimitris Mavros, managing director of the market research firm MRB Hellas, said the timing of the bill appeared to be carefully calculated: Backing a measure that props up Mitsotakis’ centrist credentials but with the controversy likely to blow over before the European Union-wide elections in June.

Greeks in 2024, Mavros said, have shown a sharp rise in financial anxiety, their worries reflected in recent strikes and ongoing farmers’ protests.

“I think the farmers’ (protests) and high prices — and issues that hurt people’s pockets – are going to overshadow the same-sex couples issue,” he said. “We’re probably going to get past this calmly.”

Chrysa Gkotsopoulou and Elena Kotsifi, both engineers, for years told their families and colleagues they were roommates and only came out as a couple after moving to England for work in 2015.

They now have a young daughter, Ariadne, and all three travel to Greece using their U.K. passports.

“We quickly realized that England offered us prospects as a couple that we had never previously imagined.” Kotsifi, 38, said. “We could be ourselves.”

They flew to Athens at the weekend to celebrate the bill’s expected approval, and said that for the first time in nearly a decade, they now view returning home as a possibility.

They hope to join the activist Belia and others Thursday night in the public gallery in parliament and celebrations set to follow.

“If there’s room for us (in parliament), we’d like to go,” Gkotsopoulou said. “We feel joy, joy and pride that Greece is moving to the right side of history.” ___ Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed.

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