Few Greeks opting for civil partnership as it doesn’t offer the same privileges as marriage

Few in Greece have embraced the institution of civil unions even though legislation allowing couples to have their partnership legally recognized without getting married was first introduced in 2008. The main causes behind this reluctance appear to be a lack of awareness about the institution and how it works, prejudice toward this form of partnership in a country where the Orthodox Church’s authority is still held in high esteem and plays a strong traditional role, as well as the law itself, which presents its own obstacles.

In the year after the law was first introduced, the number of couples joined in civil unions came to 161, rising only slightly in 2010 and 2011 to 180 and 185 respectively. The number rose significantly in 2012, reaching 314, while data suggest that 2013 will also see an increase in couples opting for a civil partnership.

According to data published in August by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), a census of people joined by civil union in 2011 came to 880 couples. The same data show that 332 people broke their civil unions and 78 were widowed between 2008 and 2011.

To get an idea of how small the percentage of civil unions is compared to marriage, registry office weddings in 2012 came to 25,730 across Greece, church weddings came to 23,980 and civil unions to just 314.

Moreover, it appears that urbanites find the idea of a civil partnership more conducive as more than 50 percent of the 314 unions forged in 2012 were in Athens and 20 percent in Thessaloniki.

Confirming a civil partnership is a relatively easy process that takes an agreement signed by a notary which is then filed with the marriage registry. Individuals entering an agreement for a civil partnership cannot be married to someone else nor can they be related by blood or adoption. The union can be declared null and void if any of these terms are found to have been broken.

Civil unions are mainly meant to protect the property and inheritance rights of the individuals entering the agreement. They also cover custody rights over children. Paternity is protected too. Basically, they provide a rather loose set of rules governing the union of two people who do not want to go through the process of marriage.

The law, however, is lacking. For example, it does not allow for same-sex unions, an issue that was recently taken up the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Greece’s exclusion of same-sex couples from civil unions is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. It further does not cover issues of taxation, social security etc for couples in a civil union. Social security funds, for example, will not provide coverage to the civil partner of a member. In a recent case that went before Parliament, the Social Security Foundation (IKA) refused to issue a healthcare booklet to a pregnant woman who had a civil union with her partner, the baby’s father, who was a member of IKA. Similar problems arise at tax offices, where authorities do not allow the two partners of a civil union to make a joint declaration.

The issue of same-sex unions, however, promises to pose the biggest challenge when and if authorities decide to hone the law further given that Greece is a relatively conservative society.

In its decision earlier this month, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights reiterated that “same-sex couples are just as capable as different-sex couples of entering into stable committed relationships.” It ruled that Law 3719 was therefore in violation of same-sex applicants’ right to equal treatment.

It is noted that from the 19 members of the Council of Europe, just Greece and Lithuania prohibit same-sex couples from entering a civil partnership.

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