The Carefully Calculated Politics Behind Passing Same-Sex Marriage In Greece

Greece made history last week after its parliament approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, becoming the first majority-Christian Orthodox country to enact such legislation. “This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece – a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on X, formerly Twitter, following

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Greece made history last week after its parliament approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, becoming the first majority-Christian Orthodox country to enact such legislation.

“This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece – a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on X, formerly Twitter, following the vote.

The vote has passed: as of tonight, Greece is proud to become the 16th EU country to legislate marriage equality. This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece – a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values.

— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) February 15, 2024

Mitsotakis, who won re-election in a landslide last summer, pushed the bill forward despite facing pushback by the influential Greek church and politicians, including MPs of his own center-right New Democracy party.

Protesters gather during a rally against same-sex marriage, at central Syntagma square, in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 11, 2src24. More than 1,5srcsrc protesters have gathered in central Athens to oppose legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Greece.
Protesters gather during a rally against same-sex marriage, at central Syntagma square, in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 11, 2024. More than 1,500 protesters have gathered in central Athens to oppose legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Greece.

Yorgos Karahalis via Associated Press

The Greek public also appeared split on the issue, according to polling.

But Mitsotakis said he was able to make the argument that it is important to legislate on this matter given it creates meaningful change for some people without threatening the majority of the population in any way.

“I knew from the beginning that there are a lot of people also within my party that did not agree with this but we went through extensive public consultation, we had a very rigorous debate in Greece,” Mitsotakis told GZERO World. “And at the end of the day, human rights is about protecting smaller groups. Otherwise, you have the tyranny of the majority.”

Still, some point out that despite the fact that Mitsotakis believed in this bill, there are also other political calculations he made in pushing it through.

Why Did A Center-Right Government Introduce The Same-Sex Marriage Bill?

The recently passed legislation recognizes the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage and adoption. Previously, under Greek law, only biological parents of children in same-sex relationships were recognized as legal guardians.

Stella Belia, the founder of Rainbow Families, an organization representing same-sex families, told The New York Times the bill “makes life much, much easier for many people, and it protects children that have been living in a state of precariousness.”

People celebrate the voting of same-sex marriage and the extension of same-sex couples parental rights by Greek parliament in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 15, 2src24.
People celebrate the voting of same-sex marriage and the extension of same-sex couples parental rights by Greek parliament in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 15, 2024.

Aris Oikonomou/SOOC/AFP via Getty Images

Still, the legislation does not allow same-sex couples to have children through a surrogate, an option that only remains available to women, whether single or married, who are unable to have children due to health issues. Some people are expecting this discrepancy to be challenged in court.

The bill, which passed on the evening of Feb. 15, was supported by 175 out of the 300 members of parliament. Mitsotakis had to rely on support from some MPs of opposition parties, including left-wing Syriza and center-left Pasok, as a third of his New Democracy MPs, including government ministers, either voted against the bill or abstained from the vote.

Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, one of the bill’s biggest detractors within the government, called the legislation “dangerous,” adding that “same-sex marriage does not constitute a human right.”

Mitsotakis said he respected the different views on this subject and would not discipline New Democracy MPs who opposed the legislation.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attends the parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage in Athens, on Feb. 15, 2src24.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attends the parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage in Athens, on Feb. 15, 2024.

Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

Wolfango Piccoli, the co-president of political risk at Teneo, a consultancy firm, told HuffPost that Samaras’ full-throated criticism could actually work to Mitsotakis’ advantage politically because it demonstrates the party is “kind of broad family that caters for a wide variety of center-right or more right-wing kind of voters.”

That coupled with the fact that the main left-wing opposition parties were also divided on the bill, meant the left was unable to score political points on this issue.

The legislation is also part of Mitsotakis’ effort to solidify his centrist credentials.

Nick Malkoutzis, the co-founder and editor of Macropolis, an independent politics and economic analysis service, told HuffPost the bill is in line with Mitsotakis’ personal political beliefs, adding that the New Democracy leader has positioned himself as a liberal on social and economic issues.

“This policy was something that Mitsotakis clearly believed in,” Malkoutzis said. “He had been talking about it since his first term in office.”

Introducing a same-sex marriage bill was also part of his campaign manifesto last year, though vaguely worded, Panos Koliastasis, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Peloponnese, told HuffPost.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivers his speech during a discussion in parliament regarding a proposed bill about same-sex marriage on Feb. 15, 2src24.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivers his speech during a discussion in parliament regarding a proposed bill about same-sex marriage on Feb. 15, 2024.

Nick Paleologos/SOOC/AFP via Getty Images

Despite polls showing the legislation being supported by roughly 40% to 50% of Greeks, Malkoutzis said Mitsotakis calculated that Greek society has softened its stance on the issue over the past few years.

The legislation is also part of the country’s “rebranding exercise,” a major priority for this government, which has sought to turn the page from the Eurozone crisis that resulted in Greece defaulting on debt in 2015, Piccoli added.

Why Now?

Mitsotakis’ party comfortably won re-election last year, defeating the main opposition party, Syriza, by over 20 percentage points.

Mitsotakis felt now was the right time to introduce the bill because he not only had “the political capital that he can spend to push through something that is somewhat controversial, both within his party and society but also he felt that he is strongly in control over his own party,” Piccoli said.

However, passing this progressive legislation could be part of a calculation by Mitsotakis to boost his profile abroad following a number of issues raised about his government.

On the one hand, Malkoutzis noted that the same-sex marriage bill came earlier than many anticipated, given the European Parliament elections are just four months away, and one could argue Mitsotakis would have an incentive to temporarily shelve any legislation that could be deemed controversial domestically.

Still, the fact he was able to pass this bill now gives him a platform to generate positive headlines.

“It’s something that he believed in, but passing the bill now gives him a timely boost when his image was becoming a bit tarnished outside of the country,” Malkoutzis told HuffPost.

The European Parliament on Feb. 7 approved a resolution noting concern about the state of the rule of law in Greece, citing, among other things, the wiretapping scandal dubbed “Greek Watergate” targeting politicians and journalists, the treatment of migrants and the “lack of progress made in the judicial investigation” into the deadly shipwreck in Pylos, and the excessive use of force by police.

Koliastasis noted that the non-binding resolution was introduced by a coalition of parties that oppose the center-right European Popular Party, which New Democracy and Mitsotakis are part of in the E.U.

Mitsotakis on Tuesday claimed that the criticism leveled at his government is politically motivated, essentially suggesting that the country’s left-wing parties are trying to hurt the country’s standing abroad to damage him politically and calling the rule of law in Greece “stronger than ever.”

“It seems a little odd that certain forces in our country, which once used the most anti-European, populist slogans, suddenly present themselves as the defenders of justice and democratic values and justice,” he said.

Mitsotakis cited the same-sex marriage legislation and the country’s introduction of the postal vote in the upcoming European Parliament election as examples of the country implementing reforms under his leadership.

During an interview with Greece’s Star Channel, the Greek leader also mentioned the country’s improved ranking in the 2023 Democracy Index of EIU, the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, which was released following the European Parliament resolution.

Overall, Malkoutzis said that the criticism about the country’s record on the rule of law has not become an issue for Mitsotakis domestically.

“It’s much less of a debate in Greece than it is outside of Greece. But that’s mostly to do with the fact that we have a very government-friendly mainstream media landscape, and any avenues that have existed to shed further light on potential scandals,” Malkoutzis said, “have been essentially blocked off by the government.”

Could The Bill Hurt Conservatives In Upcoming European Parliament Elections?

The passage of the marriage equality legislation is not expected to be a major issue for voters in the European Parliament elections this summer, who appear more concerned with other issues, according to the polls.

While Mitsotakis’ New Democracy still expects to finish first in June’s vote, it will likely see a slight drop in its support.

Koliastasis told HuffPost this type of election “usually facilitates the expression of a protest vote.”

The major question for the government, Koliastasis said, is whether New Democracy will be able to get a higher vote share than it did in the last European Parliament vote of 2019.

Malkoutzis said the “wear and tear” the government will likely suffer would come mostly as a result of the difficult start to Mitsotakis’ second term as a result of natural disasters that exposed the poor state of Greece’s civil protection services, cost of living issues, including high foods prices, and dissatisfaction within some groups of voters, including farmers, who recently took to the streets of central Athens to protest.

Greek farmers are riding their tractors to the parliament building as they stage a protest against the government's agricultural policy at Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 2src, 2src24.
Greek farmers are riding their tractors to the parliament building as they stage a protest against the government’s agricultural policy at Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 20, 2024.

Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

But, at least so far, the opposition has been unable to capitalize on these grievances despite the fact that New Democracy has suffered a 2% to 3% drop in the polls since the start of the year, Piccoli said.

“Nobody is actually really gaining it from the mainstream opposition,” Piccoli added, in reference to Syriza and Pasok.

The same-sex marriage bill, though, is expected to give a small boost to far-right parties, including Greek Solution, “which looks like it’s probably going to be the major winner from the controversy that has been created around the legislation,” Malkoutzis said.

According to recent polling, Greek Solution is expected to get about 9% of the vote in June, roughly doubling the vote share it got in the 2023 general election.

Yet, Piccoli estimated the potential gains made by the far-right would likely be temporary.

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