Letter from Thessaloniki

In Greece the once mostly abstract debate over gay marriage is no longer that abstract. Last week the mayor of Tilos, a small island in the Aegean, conducted the country’s first same-sex marriage, sparking an impassioned debate about gay rights in Greece. Two days ago, with the slogan «It’s our Right!» the LGBT (gay and lesbian ) community for the fourth consecutive year affirmed and celebrated its diversity in the center of Athens. The Athens Pride Festival, with a march under Rainbow Flags in front of Parliament, has already become an institution. Issues that remained in the closet for decades have suddenly been forced into the hearts, minds and TV sets of people whose prior exposure to the idea may have been limited to what a pair of ancient lovers – such as Harmodius and Aristogeiton – got up to before they helped overthrow the tyrants of Athens. Now it was the turn of Evangelia Vlami, the first woman to marry another woman in Greece, and Dimitris Tsabounis who made history by being the first man in a gay marriage to denounce the contemporary «tyrants» after being ignored by the state. Supreme Court Prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas moved unusually fast to try and block the country’s first gay marriage. «Marriage between gays is not provided for in current legislation and the Constitution,» said Sanidas in a circular sent to prosecutors in Rhodes. Thereafter, the heated debate centered on the wording of laws and the Constitution which does not clearly define marriage as «the union of a man and a woman.» «If you have to guess what something means, it probably doesn’t belong in legislation,» says gay rights advocate Grigoris Valianatos, insisting that the law makes no reference to gender. Theofano Papazisi, professor of law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, strongly asserted that «existing legislation does not explicitly forbid the holding of a wedding between people of the same sex.» The current wave of Christian religiosity that is flowing across Northern Greece like an oil slick in the Thermaic Gulf has served as a reminder to the people of Thessaloniki that they must submit to the laws of the Church. «Gay people distort human nature with unspeakable, unnatural acts,» preached Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki. After the leftist Synaspismos Coalition committed itself to supporting same-sex marriage, Bishop Anthimos said such a declaration amounts to «impudence and shame.» The good shepherd of Thessaloniki has probably never read historian John Boswell’s claims that the 4th century Christian martyrs Saint Sergius and Bacchus were united in the rite of «adelphopiesi,» or brother-making, which he calls an early form of religious same-sex marriage. The Greek Orthodox Church is the state religion and wields extensive power. The government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis may oppose same-sex marriage, yet did not express itself openly this time. «They just wait until the laws of the EU are going to resolve such issues. Greek politicians don’t like to commit themselves anyway. They fear losing votes,» commented Costas Kanakis, a popular figure with the younger audience on ANT1 TV. The main argument expressed against gay weddings has been that marriage is an institution between men and women for the purpose of having children. However, in an overpopulated world, the biblical exhortation to go forth and multiply is heeded less and less. In the modern world, as humanity suffers an economic crisis of unprecedented proportion, each industrial society now has more workers than needed. National economies are collapsing, unemployment is rampant everywhere. Yet our politico-religious leaders continue to glorify the family at the expense of the individual. In this «globalization of poverty,» last year’s wisdom – for them – is this year’s folly. In February, a quasi-government agency encouraged the government to introduce a cohabitation law to ensure that there is no legal or economic discrimination against homosexuals anywhere. Already in place in several countries, such a law no doubt redresses inequities in the law. The National Human Rights Committee proposed a legislative provision that would cover both same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual ones. Sure enough, any encouragement toward making homosexual relationships more permanent has become something of a euphemism for «legal marriage.» However, our Orthodox Church also reacted to this proposal angrily, warning of immorality as in the case of the doomed city of Sodom. Yet reading the Good Book more attentively, one discovers that Sodom was destroyed not because the inhabitants were indulging in homosexual acts but because a number of local men wanted to gang rape a pair of male angels who were visiting the town. And gang rape, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is hardly pleasing in the eyes of any deity. Some months ago the report of the aforesaid committee was submitted to the Justice Ministry but so far there has been little progress in implementing the proposal. Alas, a phenomenon most common in this country. Today divorce is commonplace. Contraception is universally practised, while abortion is legal. Even homosexuals have changed considerably since coming out of the closet. Yes, they have more money and this affluence of the average adult male homosexual is easily explained. For with no wife or children to support he has a comparatively large disposable income. Surveys have shown that gays eat more meals in restaurants than the average householder, buy more books, and are far more likely to try out new gadgets. They may buy far fewer tickets to soccer matches, but they go to the theater and opera much more often. And since «Sex is politics,» as American author Gore Vidal states – in his enlightening collection of writings titled «Sexually Speaking» – homosexuals also vote, and that is what counts most. At least for politicians badly in need of votes.