Greece’s conviction by the European Court of Human Rights paves the way for the legal recognition of homosexual relationships. Greece was convicted for excluding homosexual couples from the 2008 Cohabitation Agreement.
By Dimitris Angelidis
A decision of the European Court of Human Rights that is of historical importance for the Greek gay rights movement: Greece was convicted for excluding homosexual couples from the 2008 Cohabitation Agreement. The decision obliges Greece to reform the law in order to include homosexual couples, which will lead to their legal recognition for the first time in our country.
This is the first time a country ever gets convicted by the European Court for excluding homosexual couples from the Cohabitation Agreement (the issue has been much discussed by the Court during the Schalk Case Against Austria – but in that case there was no conviction since Austria had already changed its legislation). At the same time, it is the first time Greece gets convicted by the European Court for discrimination against gays.
The Cohabitation Agreement law had passed by Karamanlis’s government and remained intact despite the repeated announcements by PASOK, SYRIZA and DIMAR that they would change it. While in all other European countries such laws also include gay couples, Greece was the only one excluding them. Lithuania has also introduced a similar law since then.
Only the Portuguese Judge voted against
In the cases “Vallianatos, Mylonas, C.S. and others against Greece” the Court decided that the exclusion of gay couples from the Cohabitation Agreement violates articles 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and 8 (the right to respect the personal and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision came by a majority of 16 to 1 (the Portuguese dissenting judge) from the Court’s plenum.
“The Court repeated that homosexuals can enter into stable and committing relationships, just like heterosexuals. Therefore, it took account that the complainants are in a situation similar to the one of heterosexual couples regarding the need to identify and legally protect their relationships”, says the press release of the Court.
The decision took into account the fact that heterosexual couples have other ways of legal recognition of their relationship, apart from the agreement. “Consequently, same-sex couples had every interest in entering into a civil union through the Cohabitation Agreement, since it would give them the sole legal basis in Greek legislation for the legal recognition of their relationship.”
The case was heard at the Court on the 16th of January this year, after the appeals of four same-sex couples in 2009. One of them was a known couple, Gregory Vallianatos and Nikos Mylonas, who appealed with the support of the Greek Helsinki Monitor (EPSE). The other three couples (two couples of women and one of men) remained anonymous and appealed together with the organization “Synthesis-Information, Awareness, Research on HIV/AIDS”, supported by Professor of Constitutional Law Nikos Alivizatou, and Doctor of Law Vangelis Mallios.
“Any discrimination against homosexual couples as for their rights to choose their partner and to form joint family life is unacceptable. […] It is therefore anticipated that the law will be modified in order that same-sex couples will be able to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement”, the joint statement of the two organisations says, expressing their satisfaction with the decision.
“Greece was convicted as being the only European state to legislate a Cohabitation Agreement only for heterosexual couples. It is Greece that was convicted and not just a single Greek government, since from the time the law passed it in 2008, not even one government or any opposition party has suggested any expansion of the Agreement towards relationships of homosexual couples, despite the public appeal by gay and human rights organisations on the 24th of July 2011, which finally remained unanswered. Today Greece has to comply with the decision of the European Court and to immediately modify the law, as a legislative committee had already suggested since December 2010”, said Panagiotis Dimitras from Greek Helsinki Monitor.
The complainants were represented in the Court by French lawyer Caroline Mécary, professor of law N. K. Alivizatos, Doctor of Law Vangelis Mallios and Panagiotis Dimitras from the Greek Helsinki Monitor. King’s College’s Professor Robert Wintermute had intervened in the trial on behalf of the international organisations FIDH, ICJ, AIRE Centre and ILGA-Europe.
‘Efsyn’ newspaper talked with some of the complainants, namely with one of the anonymous couples and also with Nikos Mylonas, as well as Lyo Kalovyrna from ‘Synthesis’ organisation and layer Vangelis Mallios.
“Hypocrisy and Turning a Blind Eye”
Lyo Kalovyrna, “Synthesis-Information, Awareness, Research on HIV/AIDS”.
The decision in Strasburg is the obvious response to the Greek governments’s and their turning a blind eye. The stale – if not ridiculous – arguments that the Greek governments has presented were deemed by the Court as completely unfounded. Until now Greek governments have not shown the least interest for the protection of human rights of homosexual citizens and, unfortunately, it remains uncertain if Greece’s conviction by the Court of Human Rights will be enough to push our politicians away from the political Middle Ages where they live, to which they condemn the rest of the country. From all parties there are very few politicians that dare to talk about the violation of rights and the lack of equality before the law that our fellow gay citizens have to deal with. As gay men and women we also have responsibility for this, since we can be our own worst enemies. If we do not fight for our own rights ourselves, then nobody is going to give them to us – not even a court decision.
“Expansion of the Cohabitation Agreement”
Nikos Mylonas, litigator
Greece’s conviction today by the European Court creates the necessary conditions for the expansion of the Cohabitation Agreement in order that the latter includes all couples, without exclusion. Now it is the government’s and the parliament’s turn to take the necessary actions. They are obliged to immediately reform the Cohabitation Agreement law. The European Court of Human Rights with this decision supports a wider definition of family, a definition which also includes same sex couples.
At the same time there has been another important decision by the Court of the European Union according to which suggests gay asylum seekers who are in high risk of being prosecuted because of their sexual orientation in their origin country have the right to be protected by EU countries. Today was a crucial day for the battle against discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Greece and Europe.
“Conviction of the Exclusions”
Vangelis Mallios, lawyer, general secretary of the Greek Union of Human Rights.
The decision of the Plenary of the European Court of Human Rights for the ‘Vallianatos and others’ case convicted Greece because law 3719/2008 excluded homosexual couples from the option of contracting a Cohabitation Agreement. Why is this decision important?
First, because it shows to Greece that when a state legislates, it owes to take social developments into account and as well as the fact that there is not only one way for citizens to shape their personal and family life.
Second, because it stresses that stable cohabitation between persons of the same sex constitutes family life, just like the cohabitation between a woman and a man.
Third, because it points out that this law opposes homosexual couples’ right to freedom in developing their personality and their autonomy in shaping their family life.
As a result, the Greek state is called to remove the discriminations and injustices that homosexual couples are subjected to. The inclusion of these couples in the Cohabitation Agreement law is a good start!
“A Step for Full Equality”
C.S. and E.D., complainants
The ECHR vindicated our appeal and convicted Greece for excluding homosexual couples from the Cohabitation Agreement. We would like to express our satisfaction with the decision and to thank Professor of Law N. K. Alivizatos and Doctor of Law Vangelis Mallios. Greece now has to comply with the decision and modify the law, since the current Cohabitation Agreement law that is only for heterosexual couples violates articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. We are aware that even though this case is won there is still a lot of discrimination against LGBT people and that this discrimination will not disappear so easily. However, we consider the decision as an important step for the rights and the demands of LGBT people and their struggle for full equality.
Article translated from ‘Efimerida ton Syntakton’ newspaper, 08/11/2013, online at: http://www.efsyn.gr/?p=145828