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    Break Out the Baklava! A Victory for Love and Equality Over 2700 Years in the Making

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    There was Philolaus & Diocles, Achilles & Patroclus, Alexander the Great & Hephaestion—and the Sacred Band of Thebes, the elite 4th century BCE army troop of 150 pairs of male lovers. And, of course, Sappho from Lesbos, who wrote countless lines of poetry about her love for women. The list goes on and on, and indeed the ancient Greek ideal of same-sex love helped inspire the start of the modern LGBTIQ movement, which began in Berlin, Germany, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

    Now, finally, the freedom of LGBTQ+ people to marry the person they love came home to Greece three weeks ago, when the nation became the 37th in the world with marriage equality. It was a victory for love and equality over 2,700 years in the making.

    Attainment of marriage equality in Greece was also particularly significant because it marked the first time that an Orthodox Christian nation embraced the freedom to marry. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the center-right New Democracy party, who engineered passage of the legislation, declared last month that there should be no “‘second-class’ citizens and certainly no ‘children of a lesser God.'” He also reminded opposition church leaders of the fact that marriage equality had been “already implemented in 36 countries across five continents without apparent harm to social cohesion or government harmony.”

    A coalition of parliamentarians from the ruling center-right and opposition left came together to pass the legislation by a decisive 176–76 vote. And in another sign of progress for the Greek LGBTIQ community, the main opposition party Syriza is, in fact, led by the openly gay Greek American Stefanos Kasselakis. The photogenic Kasselakis and his husband American Tyler McBeth became instant Greek celebrities when Kasselakis out of the blue skyrocketed to leadership of his party last fall.

    The marriage equality bill also advances the rights of same-sex parents, providing that married same-sex spouses automatically have legal recognition as parents of children they adopt or to which one of them gives birth. Prime Minister Mitsotakis proclaimed during the legislative debate that “[p]eople who have been invisible will finally be made visible around us, and with them, many children will finally find their rightful place.”

    Yet more work remains to be done because the new law stops short of full equality. The law does not extend to same-sex couples the right to use surrogacy or other means of assisted reproduction that remain exclusively available to heterosexual married and unmarried couples and single women who cannot bear children for health reasons. Nor does the law provide transgender parents the ability to change their names and genders on their children’s birth certificates. Still, Stella Belia of Rainbow Families declared the new legislation “a major victory that we’ve been fighting for for years.”

    Greece also became the first county in Southeast Europe to achieve marriage equality. It’s fitting that while celebrations broke out in Athens, LGBTIQ couples over 1,700 miles to the north in Tartu, Estonia, had become the first to wed in a former Soviet republic two weeks before. The Northeast European country Estonia, which borders Russia, made history of its own last summer when it passed marriage equality legislation that took effect at the beginning of this year.

    As soon as the news broke about the Greek victory, a close friend of ours emailed us in whimsical jubilance: “Break out the Baklava!” Her message had special meaning to us because, at our 2008 wedding, instead of a traditional wedding cake we celebrated with baklava. Just before the Greek marriage equality victory, Netflix by fortuity premiered Alexander: The Making of a God, featuring a steamy kiss scene between the disrobed Alexander and Hephaestion. Now modern-day Alexanders and Hephaestions in Greece can legally wed and break out the baklava in celebration.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    6/26 and Beyond
    Published on March 7, 2024