Greece Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage Could Bring Legal Challenges

February 23, 2024

ATHENS – The passage of same-sex marriage in Greece – which will allow adoptions but not using surrogate mothers – was landmark legislation approved over bitter division and raises the question of what other Orthodox faith countries will do.

It doesn’t seem to have produced any momentum and could face a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France and hasn’t led to a rush by same-sex couples in Greece to marry.

An analysis in Kathimerini by Harry van Versendaal said excluding surrogate mothers for same-sex couples to have children could be legally problematic for the new law.

“In my view, no such reasons exist,” says Tzevelekos. “But it will be interesting to see what grounds Greece may invoke and how convincing these can be,” he said, adding he’s speaking only for himself.

Alina Tryfonidou, Assistant Professor in the Department of Law at the University of Cyprus, there has not been a case at the Strasbourg court that distinguishes between married opposite-sex couples and married same-sex couples concerning parenthood, including parenthood through surrogacy.

“But I am almost certain that the ECtHR would find that reserving a right only to married opposite-sex couples and excluding married same-sex couples would amount to direct discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation,” she said.

The Metropolis of Piraeus, Seraphim announced it would “cut ties” with the 175 lawmakers who voted for the marriage equality bill, many New Democracy members abstaining or staying away so they wouldn’t have to be counted.

Eastern Orthodox leadership, despite lacking a single doctrinal authority like a pope, has been united in opposing recognition of same-sex relationships both within its own rites and in the civil realm. Public opinion in majority Orthodox countries has mostly been opposed, too.

But there are some signs of change. Two small majority-Orthodox countries, Montenegro and Cyprus, have authorized same-sex unions in recent years, as did Greece in 2015 before upgrading to this week’s approval of full marital status.

Civil unions may become more common among Orthodox countries gravitating toward the European Union. They remain off the table in Russia, which has cracked down on LGBTQ+ expression, and countries in its orbit.


Roughly 200 million Eastern Orthodox live primarily in Eastern Europe and neighboring Asian lands, with about half that total in Russia, while smaller numbers live across the world.

A 2016 statement by a council of most Orthodox churches called marriage between a man and a woman “the oldest institution of divine law” and said members were forbidden from entering same-sex unions.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered the first among equals among Orthodox leaders, affirmed that stance in a statement after the Greek vote. But he added that the church must respond to members in such unions “with pastoral responsibility and in Christ-like love.”

In countries where they are a majority, Orthodox believers overwhelmingly said society should not accept homosexuality or approve same-sex marriage, according to surveys conducted in 2015 and 2016 by the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank.

Greek Orthodox showed relative tolerance, with half of Orthodox saying homosexuality should be accepted and a quarter favoring same-sex marriage. In more recent polls, Greeks overall narrowly supported the marriage law.The Greek law validates marriage in the civil realm but doesn’t require any church to perform such rites and the Church won’t allow couples to be married in religious ceremonies in churches.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged the church’s position but said, “We are discussing the decisions of the Greek state, unrelated to theological beliefs,” although there is no separation of Church and State.

Civil unions may be in some Orthodox countries’ near future, said George Demacopoulos, director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University in New York.

“In terms of civil marriage, I think the countries that are in the European Union will eventually all do it,” Demacopoulos said. “My guess is the assemblies of Bishops in those countries will offer some resistance to the measure, and depending on where you are, that may or may not delay it.”“A blanket measure that excludes same-sex couples from surrogacy when opposite-sex couples enjoy this right in Greece is, in principle, discriminatory,” said Vassilis Tzevelekos, reader in law (associate professor) at the University of Liverpool School of Law and Social Justice, anticipating a legal challenge.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)


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