By Renee Maltezou
THESSALONIKI, Greece (Reuters) -When Yolanda Kalantzi and Georgia Ampatzidou fell in love eight years ago, they said the idea of getting married was “science fiction” in deeply conservative Greece, where LGBT+ couples cannot wed or adopt.
Now they have a tentative wedding date for spring, tease each other about their ballooning guest list, and are already considering outfits and flowers.
The conservative government submitted a bill to parliament on Thursday that legalises same-sex civil marriage. The legislation is expected to pass given Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right party majority, and likely support from leftist lawmakers.
If it does, it will make Greece one of the first Orthodox Christian countries to adopt such measures and will be a landmark victory for couples like Kalantzi and Ampatzidou who have campaigned for equality.
“We couldn’t even think about it, imagine it or dream about it,” Kalantzi, a 42-year-old oceanographer, said at the couple’s apartment in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
The couple have a three-year-old son, but only his biological mother Kalantzi is recognised as a parent by the state. Under the bill, Ampatzidou will be able to adopt him and enjoy equal parental rights, if they marry.
“Only when we saw the text of the bill with our own eyes did we slowly start dreaming,” said Kalantzi.
Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church believes homosexuality is a sin and openly opposes the bill. But many in the LGBT+ community believe it does not go far enough.
Ampatzidou and Kalantzi want to have a second child, but the bill does not overturn obstacles for LGBT+ couples in using assisted reproduction methods. The mothers said they have already been turned down twice by IVF centres.
“Being rejected by the clinic where we had our first child, was heartbreaking. The second one was like a stab in the heart,” said Ampatzidou, 29, a nurse.
NO ‘LABORATORY OF POLICIES’
Surrogate pregnancies will also not be extended to LGBT+ couples and individuals, according to the draft bill, which recognises children already born through that method abroad. That ban has already affected countless of people.
Athens-based radiologist Angelos Michailides, 54, spent four years and his life savings finding a surrogate mother in the United States.
He now has two three-year-old twins, but they are not recognised as citizens – Greek registry offices require the name of a mother – and have no access to public education or healthcare.
“In Greece, it is as if they don’t exist,” he said as his twin daughters played cheerfully in the background. “They are invisible children.”
Addressing those issues, Mitsotakis told his cabinet last month that “Greece will not become a laboratory of policies which are only applied in a few countries”.
He has said the reform bill is not aimed to be revolutionary but rather to align Greece with other countries in the European Union adhering to an EU strategy that sets goals for LGBT rights in the 2020-2025 period.
Greece lags behind much of Europe in LGBT rights, but over the past decade it has recognised cohabitation agreements for same-sex couples and banned conversion therapy for minors aimed at suppressing a person’s sexual orientation.
Polls show Greeks are split on LGBT+ marriage. But Mitsotakis, whose New Democracy party has an eight-seat majority in the 300-seat parliament, hopes to win over the centre-left with the reforms.
The bill, which is subject to changes during a parliamentary commmitee debate, needs at least 75 votes to pass. It is expected to be put to a vote by mid-February.
“This particular reform confers and gives more rights to a previously invisible social group of people,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Minister Akis Skertsos. The government, he said, respects any different views but is determined to proceed.
“Our country should become fairer …, more prosperous, more European every day,” he told Reuters.
For all its perceived shortfalls, the bill is a major step forward for Kalantzi and Ampatzidou, who hope to marry in May. Kalantzi wrote a letter to the prime minister last month, urging him to propose the bill.
“It is time, Mr. Mitsotakis, for our anguish, our pain, our disappointment to end,” she wrote.
Whatever the outcome, their son has little doubt who his parents are, legal or not.
On a book shelf, propped up by a toy aeroplane and a miniature rubber whale, is a drawing of a heart and a scrawled message.
“Mommy Georgia, Mommy Yolanda, I love you to the moon.”
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by Edward McAllister and Mark Heinrich)
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