The recognition for same-sex marriage follow decades of struggle in Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Years before she started her own family, Stella Belia waged a tireless campaign for legal recognition. Her battle may finally be over this week – a few months before her twin boys’ 17th birthday.

Greek lawmakers are expected to legalize same-sex marriage in a vote in parliament on Thursday, in a rare display of cooperation between parties.

Approval would make Greece the first orthodox Christians country to take that step and remove several legal obstacles for gay couples who already have or want to have children.

“I’ve been fighting for this since I found out who I was,” says Belia, a 57-year-old drama teacher with a gruff voice and an easy laugh.

“And it’s a great relief to say we finally made it,” she said. “But it is tiring, very tiring to fight for something that is a self-evident right – to suffer for something that is just handed to other people – and to have to fight so hard to get it.”

A protester reacts during a rally against gay marriage, in central Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Belia split with her female partner when her sons were eleven years old, but she considers her to be the boys’ other mother.

Although civil partnerships were extended to gay couples in Greece almost a decade ago, currently only the biological parents of children in those relationships are recognized as legal guardians.

FILE - Stefanos Kasselakis, leader of the main opposition Syriza party, speaks to supporters outside the party's headquarters in Athens, Monday, September 25, 2023. The center-right Greek government's plans to legalize civil marriage between people of the same sex have a received a major boost after the left-wing opposition leader pledged his party's support.  Syriza leader Stefanos Kasselakis says he will instruct his lawmakers to vote in favor of the proposal when it comes to parliament, even as he warned on Thursday, January 11, 2024, that it did not go far enough on parental rights.  (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis, File)
FILE - Two women kiss in front of a rainbow flag, the symbol of the gay rights movement, during the Gay Pride parade in central Athens, Saturday, June 14, 2014. Greece's center-right government is accelerating its timetable to legalize the same.  sex marriages despite growing opposition from the powerful Orthodox Church.  Government officials said on Wednesday, January 24, 2024, that the draft legislation would be put to a vote in mid-February.  (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

The issue of children’s rights, including the publicized plight of cancer survivors in same-sex relationships, helped sway public opinion to narrowly support the bill, which was backed by the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis .

But it also provoked a strong response from the country’s Orthodox Church. The Church represents Greece’s dominant faith and argues that the marriage law would confuse the role of parents and weaken the traditional family.

The Church asked lawmakers to reconsider in a public appeal that was also read during Sunday services.

Several prominent bishops have taken a tougher stance, warning that they will refuse to baptize the children of gay couples. They joined far-right political parties and traditionalist groups to organize public demonstrations.

Protesters gather during a rally against gay marriage, in central Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, Sunday, February 11, 2024. More than 1,500 demonstrators have gathered in central Athens to oppose legislation that would ban gay marriage in Greece legalize .  The bill will be voted on in parliament within days.  (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters gather during a rally against gay marriage, in central Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protester Chara Giannakantonaki said she felt compelled to attend a rally in front of parliament last Sunday.

“Every minority already has guaranteed rights. There is no problem. They don’t need (gay) marriage. They only want to desecrate what has remained sacred in Greece: our church, our families and our children,” she said. “But children are a red line and we will never accept this.”

Mitsotakis’ government faces disagreement among conservatives over the bill and will need support from the centrist and left-wing opposition to secure the minimum of 151 votes in the 300-member parliament.

Dimitris Mavros, managing director of market research firm MRB Hellas, said the timing of the bill appeared to have been carefully calculated: support for a measure that bolsters Mitsotakis’ centrist credentials but with the controversy likely to blow over before European-wide elections Union. in June.

According to Mavros, the Greeks have shown a sharp increase in financial worries in 2024. Their concerns have been reflected in recent strikes and ongoing farmers’ protests.

“I think the farmers’ protests and the high prices – and the problems that are hurting people’s pockets – will overshadow the issue of same-sex couples,” he said. “We’ll probably get over this quietly.”

Protesters shout slogans during a rally against gay marriage, in central Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, Sunday, February 11, 2024. More than 1,500 demonstrators have gathered in central Athens to oppose legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Athens.  Greece.  The bill will be voted on in parliament within days.  (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters shout slogans during a rally against gay marriage, in central Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Chrysa Gkotsopoulou and Elena Kotsifi, both engineers, told their families and colleagues for years that they were roommates and only came out as a couple after moving to England for work in 2015.

They now have a young daughter, Ariadne, and all three travel to Greece on their British passports.

“We quickly realized that England offered us prospects as a couple that we had never imagined before.” Kotsifi, 38, said. “We could be ourselves.”

They flew to Athens this weekend to celebrate the expected passage of the bill, and said they now consider returning home as a possibility for the first time in almost a decade.

They hope to appear in the public gallery in parliament on Thursday evening, together with activist Belia and others, after which the celebrations will follow.

“If there is room for us (in parliament), we would like to go,” Gkotsopoulou said. “We feel joy, joy and pride that Greece is moving towards the right side of history.” ___ Theodora Tongas of Athens contributed.

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