Athens, Greece — Greece on Thursday became the first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex civil marriage, despite opposition from the influential and socially conservative Greek Church.

A multi-party majority of 176 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted Thursday night in favor of the landmark bill drafted by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-right government. Another 76 rejected the reform, two abstained from voting and 46 were not present in the chamber.

Mitsotakis tweeted after the vote that Greece “is proud to become the 16th country (in the European Union) to legislate marriage equality.”

“This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting Greece today: a progressive and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” he wrote.

Opinion polls suggest that most Greeks narrowly support the proposed reform, and the issue has failed to provoke deep divisions in a country more concerned about the high cost of living.

The bill was backed by four left-wing parties, including the main opposition Syriza.

“This law doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s a start,” said Spiros Bibilas, a lawmaker from the small left-wing Passage to Freedom party, who is openly gay.

It was approved despite the fact that several majority and left-wing legislators abstained or voted against the reform. Three small far-right parties and the Communist Party with Stalinist roots rejected the bill from the beginning of the two-day debate.

Supporters, waving rainbow banners, and opponents of the bill, holding religious icons and praying, held separate small, peaceful gatherings outside parliament on Thursday.

“People who have been invisible will finally become visible around us. And with them, many children will finally find their rightful place,” Mitsotakis told lawmakers before the evening vote.

“Both parents of same-sex couples still do not have the same legal opportunities to provide their children with what they need,” he added. “Being able to pick them up from school, be able to travel, go to the doctor or take them to the hospital. … That’s what we’re fixing.”

The bill confers full parental rights on same-sex married couples with children. But it prevents gay couples from having children through surrogate mothers in Greece, an option currently available to women who cannot have children for health reasons.

Maria Syrengela, a lawmaker from the ruling New Democracy (ND) party, said the reform redresses a long-standing injustice for same-sex couples and their children.

“And let’s reflect on what these people have gone through, spending so many years in the shadows, entangled in bureaucratic procedures,” he said.

Among the dissidents from the ruling party was former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, from the conservative wing of ND.

“Same-sex marriage is not a human right… and it is not an international obligation for our country,” he told parliament. “Children have the right to have parents of both sexes.”

Polls show that while most Greeks agree with same-sex weddings, they also reject extending parenthood through surrogacy to male couples. Same-sex civil unions have been allowed in Greece since 2015, but that only conferred legal guardianship on the biological parents of the children in those relationships, leaving their partners in bureaucratic limbo.

The main opposition to the new bill comes from the traditionalist Church of Greece, which also disapproves of heterosexual civil marriage.

Church officials have focused their criticism on the bill’s implications for traditional family values ​​and argue that potential legal challenges could lead to a future extension of surrogacy rights to gay couples.

Church supporters and conservative organizations have organized small protests against the proposed law.

Far-right lawmaker Vassilis Stigas, leader of the small Spartans party, described the legislation Thursday as “sick” and said its adoption would “open the gates of hell and perversion.”

Politically, the same-sex marriage law is not expected to hurt Mitsotakis’ government, which easily won re-election last year after capturing much of the centrist vote.

A stronger challenge comes from continued protests by farmers angry over high production costs and from intense opposition by many students to the planned dismantling of a state monopoly on university education.

However, parliament is expected to approve the university bill later this month, and opinion polls indicate that a majority of Greeks support it.


Associated Press reporters Derek Gatopoulos and Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed to this report.

By Sam