Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Greek Court Rules First Same-sex Weddings Invalid

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court ruled the country's first homosexual weddings, celebrated last year despite official warnings, were invalid, the couples' lawyer said Tuesday.

Last year, a gay and a lesbian couple defied the threat of criminal charges and the wrath of the Greek Orthodox church to tie the knot on a tiny Aegean island, abetted by a local mayor.

The couples had said they took advantage of a loophole in Greek civil law, which does not specify gender in matrimony, and took vows in June at municipal offices on the island of Tilos.

A public prosecutor from the neighboring island of Rhodes took the case to court saying neither the constitution nor the law referred to same-sex marriage. He asked the court cancel the weddings and rule the mayor's move to officiate illegal.

"The court said the weddings were invalid," the defendants' lawyer, Vassilis Hirdaris, told Reuters. "We will appeal within May ... but I fear the appeal court's decision won't be different, considering how conservative Greek courts are."

While many European countries have established legislation recognizing gay marriage or same-sex partnerships, Greek society traditionally has turned a blind eye to homosexuality.

The marriages drew strong criticism from the powerful Orthodox Church, which officially represents 90 percent of the 11 million-strong population. The Justice ministry had also said the weddings were illegal.

Hirdaris said the couples were determined to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, if the appeal court ruled against them.

One of the spouses, Evangelia Vlami, said the lesbian couple's joint tax declaration had been accepted by the finance ministry, which could put officials in a difficult position.

"Greece is depriving some of its citizens of their human rights," Vlami said.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Paul Casciato)

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