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Europe rights court finds Greece same-sex civil unions ban unlawful

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment] Thursday that the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil unions under Greek law is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights [text]. The court held [press release, PDF] that the ban violates Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the convention and that "the state had not shown it to have been necessary, in pursuit of the legitimate aims invoked by the law introducing civil unions, to bar same-sex couples from entering into such unions." Same-sex couples, the court stated, were in a comparable situation to different-sex couples in their need for legal recognition of their relationships with both being equally capable of entering into stable and committed relationships. Greece is to pay €5,000 to each of the six applicants in the case as well as joint awards for costs and expenses.

The Greek Ministry of Justice in 2008 established a group to investigate recognizing same-sex marriages [JURIST report] after the Greek National Commission for Human Rights proposed legislation to allow same-sex marriage, but no further plans for such legislation have been unveiled on the national level. The influential Greek Orthodox Church [official website] is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. Two same-sex couples were married [JURIST report] by the mayor of a small Greek island that same year, but these marriages were condemned as legally "non-existent" and ruled invalid by a Greek court in 2009. The mayor carried out the weddings despite a warning from top Greek prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas that the marriages were not permissible under Article 21 of the Greek Constitution [text]. Greek gay rights groups, noting a loophole in a 1982 law [AP report] that failed to specify that a civil union must be between a man and a woman, had hoped that the unions would help end discrimination. "We did this to encourage other gay people to take a stand," stated Evangelia Vlami, one of the people married in these controversial ceremonies.

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