— Greece’s Orthodox Church is using ludicrous out-dated arguments like claiming homosexuality is a mental illness or that baptisms could turn kids gay if their parents are LGBTQ+.
by Demetrios Ioannou
Greece is expected to legalize same-sex weddings this week, in a vote due to be held the day after Valentine’s Day. Not everyone is feeling the love, however, and the Greek Orthodox church has become an outspoken and powerful opponent of the changes.
Even though the bill isn’t forcing the priests to marry gay people and has nothing to do with the church, it is church officials who have been the loudest opponents, with bishops appearing on television programs making outdated and false accusations, calling homosexuality a mental illness and suggesting that gay men and women are sick and only the church can heal them.
Ultra-orthodox and far-right groups protested in central Athens on Sunday against the bill. Among them were many who were holding Greek flags, icons with Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and of course members of the clergy. “Fatherland, Religion, Family,” was one of their slogans.
“Ever since psychiatry removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, it gave up on related research and these unfortunate people were left helpless with only solace the hope of a convenient legislation and the assertion of rights with parades of self-deprecation and shame,” said Nikolaos, the Metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, during a meeting of the Greek church’s Holy Synod in late January. These words angered many Greeks who took to social media to express their disapproval and even forced the Hellenic Psychiatric Association to release a statement clarifying that “homosexuality is not a mental illness”.
According to the Greek church, homosexuality is a sin and “of course the traditional family is in danger. A homosexual relationship can neither be a family nor a marriage,” Panteleimon, the Metropolitan of Maroneia and Komotini, the spokesperson of the Holy Synod, said to The Daily Beast, and continued: “The church only recognizes as marriage the relationship between a man and a woman, whose relationship is sanctified through the holy mystery of marriage.”
“I didn’t expect anything different from the church,” said Stella Belia, who was among a group of independent consultants who worked on the national strategy for the equality of LGBTQ+ people, which is being implemented by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in accordance with a European Commission initiative.
She told The Daily Beast that she has been “out and proud” since she was in high school, but is also a deeply religious person.
Despite being abandoned by her church, Belia has made huge progress as the president of Rainbow Families Greece, an NGO focusing on LGBTQ+ parents and their families.
While there are politicians who also oppose the bill, it is expected to pass with the majority of the parliamentary votes. Although Greece has recognized a cohabitation agreement, as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples since 2015, this addition to the civil wedding bill will also acknowledge the children of those couples who have not been officially considered a family and don’t enjoy the same rights as straight families. However, the right to medically assisted reproduction and surrogacy will still not be extended to same-sex couples.
“It is very important for many [gay] families who have been feeling insecure, like families where the one member who is the legal parent is a person whose life is in danger. Those families will finally be able to have a shared parenting role,” said Belia, who is the biological mother of two 16-year-old boys, Giannis and Antonis, and looks after the three children of an ex-partner.
When her partner’s son Christos, had an accident with a motorcycle on July 6, 2022, he was hospitalized in the ICU for over a month. “He was under sedation and we didn’t know if he would live or die. And I was outside that ICU, inside was my child and I was nobody [to him according to the hospital rules],” she said, describing the difficulties many same-sex families in Greece face. According to current law, if the legal parent in a same-sex family dies, the child will most possibly end up in foster care. The partner does not have any rights associated with the child and cannot have custody.
This bill is currently in parliament and will be brought to a vote on Feb. 15. The church must then decide how to respond to the new law within religious settings. Though it is not an official decision yet, and the Greek Archbishop Ieronymos has been trying to push a more neutral stance for now, other members of the clergy have suggested that they will refuse to christen the children of gay couples, with Seraphim, the Metropolitan of Piraeus, saying on Greek network SKAI that: “If we baptize the children of gay couples, the children will become gay too.”
“I joke sometimes about this with my sons,” said Belia who had her children through IVF. “My boys tell me, ‘Mom do you still love us the same now that we are straight?’”
At the moment the Greek church has been waiting for the government’s next move and at the next meeting of the Holy Synod will decide how they will proceed. “True love has a cost; it has a sacrifice. The message of the church is clear; the church accepts everyone in repentance,” Panteleimon said. Belia replied: “None of them will deprive me of my faith. And this has nothing to do with me rejecting the church, it has to do with the church not wanting me in its bosom. I will not force myself to go where they do not want me”.
All this comes only months after the country had its first ever gay party leader. The newly elected leader of the main opposition party in the Greek parliament, Stefanos Kasselakis of SYRIZA, is a gay man who recently married his husband in New York. Same-sex marriage has been on Kasselakis’ agenda as well since day one and this has been one of the few things Greece’s main political parties agree on.
Mitsotakis said in a recent interview on national television ERT that the church could not stop the democratic will. “I absolutely respect our fellow citizens who have a different point of view, just as I respect the church’s point of view. We will respect the different opinion, but the state legislates; it does not co-legislate with the church,” he said.
The bill will finally give visibility to a large number of people in Greece and mostly their children. “All these years we have been fighting for the obvious,” Belia said.
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