First Greek gay weddings spark furor

The mayor of Tilos, a small island in the Aegean, was yesterday charged with dereliction of duty after conducting the country’s first same-sex marriages, sparking a heated debate about gay rights in Greece. Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis was quick to dismiss as «illegal» the two marriages – of a lesbian couple and a pair of gay men – that Mayor Tassos Aliferis conducted in the island’s town hall early yesterday morning. «There is no legal framework providing for same-sex marriages in Greece,» said Hatzigakis, adding that the local mayor had «arbitrarily» overstepped his authority. Supreme Court prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas – who issued a circular to prosecutors last Friday clarifying that same-sex weddings were illegal – yesterday stressed that the Greek Constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Tilos Mayor Aliferis, who faces a prosecutor on Rhodes today, was defiant. «When someone tries to enforce human rights, he cannot be prosecuted for that,» he told state television channel NET. He rebuffed calls to declare the two marriages null and void. According to Evangelia Vlami, one of the newlyweds who is also a spokeswoman for Greece’s main gay and lesbian union (OLKE), Aliferis’s prosecution «is an attempt to intimidate and terrorize people and to keep the (Orthodox) Church happy.» But Vlami said she was happy to have participated in an «historic moment,» noting that the development was a milestone in discouraging discrimination against gays in Greece. Opinion yesterday though was sharply divided. On the island, many locals expressed their disapproval of the morning’s events to visiting television reporters. But a handful of locals expressed support; several even acted as witnesses at the weddings. Clerics appearing on television debates on the subject expressed strong skepticism, even outrage. Father Stylianos of Karpathos described homosexuality as «a deadly sin, going against psychological and biological normality.» But the official response of the Orthodox Church, which has expressed strong objections to homosexuality in the past, was muted. «These people are outside the Church, they can do what they want,» said Father Timotheos, spokesperson for Archbishop Ieronymos.