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Cyprus’ first public gay wedding takes aim at prejudices

Marios Frixou, right, and his new spouse Fanos Eleftheriades run to their car from the entrance of the Nicosia District Office after their wedding ceremony, in the capital of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Friday, March 4, 2016. Petros Karadjias, AP
Marios Frixou, right, and his new spouse Fanos Eleftheriades run to their car from the entrance of the Nicosia District Office after their wedding ceremony, in the capital of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Friday, March 4, 2016. Petros Karadjias, AP

Frixou says the civil union law that paved for Friday’s wedding bestows all legal rights to gay couples that heterosexual ones are entitled to, like a widowed partner receiving the pension of a deceased spouse. The only restriction is that the law doesn’t provide for joint adoption of children for gay couples wishing to have a family. However, Costas Gavrielides, the president of gay rights group ACCEPT, said it does allow for one of the partners to adopt.

In spite of its ingrained conservatism, influential Greek Orthodox Church and Mediterranean machismo, Cyprus has made huge strides on gay rights in recent years.

“People are coming to terms with the fact that the rights of all people must be respected and actually enshrined in law,” said Gavrielides.

“Same-sex couples have been given the opportunity to feel legitimized,” he said.

The machinery of government has stayed in step; Gavrielides says a recent Interior Ministry memo instructed employees that civil union couples are entitled to the exact same rights as straight ones.

Not everyone has been so accepting. The Church and local religious groups have been clear in their opposition to such civil unions, but have not been as vocal against it as activists like Gavrielides expected.

“I won’t judge these people,” said Marinos Spetsiotis, president of the Pancyprian Orthodox Christian Movement (PAHOK), an organization that has vociferously denounced homosexuality as “an unnatural way of being.”

“We’ve made our effort to prevent this from happening, but we’re not going to act in a way that escalates the situation,” he added.

What may also account for the attitude shift is an understanding that in an ethnically divided country where leaders preach respect for the rights of all that laws can’t be selective about who’s entitled to them or not.

For all the progress, there’s still a way to go. Social stigma still keeps many closeted, like the 37 year-old man who married his 36-year-old partner last month in the country’s first gay marriage.

The 37-year-old, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he hasn’t told his parents yet about his homosexuality said he and his partner wanted to keep the ceremony under wraps because they weren’t yet ready to come out.

He also said he’s still wary of a “risk” from the possible reaction of work colleagues and employers if he were to open up about his sexual orientation.

“Cyprus has really made huge strides in a short time, but we’re still not there yet,” he says.

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