The bill that divided a nation – Nikos-Pavlos Kotzias, Greece

 

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The Parliament building lit up in the colours of the rainbow. (Source: www.lifo.gr)

It is the night of December 22, a historic date in modern Greek politics. One of the most controversial bills has just been passed. From now on, Greece recognizes the right of couples within the LGBTQ+ community to register a civil union, the closest thing we have to marriage yet. With 194 votes in favour (with four parties unanimously voting yes, one partly), 55 against (unanimous noes from Golden Dawn and the Communist Party), and 51 abstentions, mainly from New Democracy and Independent Greeks (Syriza’s coalition party), the verdict was clear. People wanted this to happen. Although the law by itself is pretty uninteresting – and not nearly progressive enough – it was a huge step for this country.

Numerous questions have been raised about this bill’s flaws and loopholes. It doesn’t implement common taxation or make the lives of these couples much easier, and conspicuously, the bill does not allow them to adopt. But following the example of Cyprus earlier this year, what started as a small step to promote inclusivity, comply with international standards and gain more votes led to an event of cataclysmic proportions that divided both the parliament and the people.

To be honest, I personally do not think things like these need to be discussed at all; we live in the 21st century and this law should have been passed ages ago, without any unrest. Yet unrest was what it spurred. So why all this fuss? Greek society is not the most LGBTQ+ friendly, that’s for sure. Filled as it is with prejudice and mean, anachronistic ideas of the meaning of words such as “family” and “love”, it was impossible for this law to be quietly enacted. But we cannot wait for the population to be ready, seeing as the need for such a law has long been a reality.

Despite the situation, more and more people regard this law as a positive change. Even those who don’t express strong support for the LGBTQ+ community can agree that these people also have rights and should be allowed to live normally, often echoing sentiments like “I do not care what other people do in their private life, as long as they are good people and do not try to force their way of living on me, that is fine by me”. That honest opinion might not be ideal, partly because it shows merely “tolerance” rather than acceptance, but it shows that Greeks can be open-minded. Although this quality tends to be found in youth, it has somehow now managed to spread to people of all ages.

The uproar came only from those who strongly oppose the idea of LGBTQ+ rights. Instead of just voicing their opinion, which would be acceptable in a nation of democracy and freedom of expression, they abused their power in the most horrendous way imaginable. It’s one of those cases in my life (Golden Dawn being another) where I was truly disgusted at what I saw. It is clearly not a matter of personal opinion anymore: hate speech should not be propagated in the 21st century, especially by those who have the right to speak for the people and do so in public.

Members of the community celebrating after the bill has passed within the Parliament. Source http://www.sooc.gr

It was to be expected that some parties – a minority in parliament – would disagree with the proposal. But what was truly remarkable was how the rest of the parliament, for once, united to defend its citizens. After many years of vicious arguments, there was finally a moment when democracy shined and MPs voted with common sense, and not necessarily party policy. Even if it is an attention scam to get more votes, as some say, it does not mean that we cannot celebrate the act of equality and democracy.  Alexis Tsipras actually apologized for the law being so “long overdue”.

But some opinions were beyond shameful and demonstrated how radicalized people can get, to the point where everyone else in society is against them. Here are a few examples, all from elected politicians.

“Why are we forced to listen to his unshaved widow?” (regarding the death of a famous actor); “In Germany there is a brothel for bestiality [which is not true] and that’s okay, I don’t care what homosexuals do in their bedroom”; “Homosexuality refers to a minority of sexually delinquent people”.

And worst of all was the Orthodox Church of Greece, that still holds much influence within the nation. The entire church cannot be generalized, but high-ranking officials made their stance clear. They are against it no matter what. “Homosexuals are sinners and should be treated as sick, because they endanger the cohesion of society. We should advise them to change their way, otherwise reject them. And anyone who supports them is not a true Christian”. A cleric went further, adding: “Well, spit on these people, because they are an embarrassment. Boo them! Erase them! These are not people! They are an abomination! They are physically and mentally ill!”. The same cleric gave the order to ring the bells mournfully in his diocese, on the day that the bill was voted on. From that moment on, things spiralled downwards. This reaction can not be described or explained; we can only emphasize its ridiculousness and laugh.

The minister of economics, Euclid Tsakalotos, during his speech. Source: http://www.sooc.gr

In a supposedly secular state, the Church, or any religion for that matter, should not have any influence, especially if interfering with the law and the parliament. They have every right to disagree, but opinions like these that spur hatred and racism are not acceptable by any reasonable definition. The Constitution does not recognize the State and the Church as two separate entities, even though they should be. What the church managed to succeed with its stance, was to further underline the need for this basic separation.  No matter whether they support the bill or not, most members of the Parliament agreed on the fact that the Church acted in a hideous way, with many commenting that their statements resembled fascism.

Abstention is actually worse than voting no, since it is the most selfish stance one can take. The people that chose to abstain only wanted to safeguard their votes, by satisfying both sides. Abstention shows pure cowardice. It should be noted that two of the members from the New Democracy party that abstained, are candidates for the presidency of the party, to be elected on the 10th of January.

The leader of the center party explained it better than I possibly could, and in a civil manner: “I am saddened that a bill aiming at the harmonization of Greece with progressive Europe, is the subject of conflict and outrageous rivalries. Things have been said here (in the parliament), that are beyond inappropriate.  When you hear shouting, it means that there is no opinion to be heard.”

But after all this, the will of the people is clear: this needs to happen, will happen, and no one can stop it. The Parliament listened to the vox populi and made it a reality. This is only the beginning, more are to follow. Hopefully soon, marriage and adoption will be recognized. And the issue of the influence the church has in Parliament and society in general is bound to be an important debate in my generation.

Nancy Papathanasiou, a member of the OLKE lesbian and gay organization said: “This (the law) will allow gay people to be more visible in society. As for how long it will take for Greece to align with other countries, we’ll have to see, [but] hopefully things will now be much quicker.”

The 78 countries where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by law. (Source: http://www.76crimes.com

To summarise, let me present a clear argument from a Syriza member: “A delinquent is someone who violates the law, and such a person only. Same-sex couples should have the same rights as every other couple. The law refers to a minority [as you said]. But how do you know what a minority is? Εquality before the law and between the citizens means respecting the rights of the others, even if they are the only ones [who need those rights].”

 

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