ATHENS (AFP) — A heated debate on gay rights opened in Greece on Tuesday hours after the country's first same-sex civil marriages were held on the small Aegean island of Tilos, sparking an immediate judicial reaction.
Greek Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis quickly declared the marriages "non-existent" and accused the local mayor of "arbitrarily" overstepping his authority.
"There is no legal framework for the holding of same-sex weddings in Greece," Hatzigakis said in a statement.
But Greece's main homosexual association Olke pledged to fight back.
"A step forward for equality has been taken... We're going to fight for the recognition of our rights," said Evangelia Vlami, 47, a prominent Olke member who was one of the newlyweds on Tuesday.
She married a woman of similar age, who was not identified.
The sole other newlywed to be named is another longtime gay activist, Dimitris Tsabrounis, who married a 25-year-old man.
Around 30 people including witnesses, local residents and gay activists attended the two ceremonies conducted by Tilos Mayor Anastassis Aliferis shortly after dawn.
Greek gay rights groups exploited a loophole in a 1982 law that does not specify that a civil union must involve a man and a woman.
The exact timing and location had been shrouded in secrecy until the last minute as a similar attempt in Athens had to be abandoned in March.
The issue is considered taboo for Greek society, where homosexuals have only begun seeking greater visibility and voice in recent years, holding the country's first Gay Pride event in 2005.
The influential Greek Orthodox Church officially frowns upon same-sex relations, with its late head Archbishop Christodoulos famously condemning homosexuality as a "defect."
The prosecutor of Rhodes island -- the administrative centre of the Dodecanese island group -- on Tuesday called on the mayor to annul the marriage and opened a preliminary inquiry to examine the mayor's prosecution for breach of duty.
But Mayor Aliferis, a socialist, said there was no legal obstacle to the ceremony taking place.
"I have no intention of annulling the marriages," he told AFP.
"Under European law, there can be no discrimination, and I hope the authorities keep that in mind to avoid ridiculing our country," he said.
Gay activists launched the initiative after the government introduced a cohabitation law for unmarried couples that made no reference to homosexuals.
The Church's reaction was muted Tuesday.
"These people are outside the Church, they can do what they want," said Father Timotheos, spokesman for Christodoulos' successor Archbishop Ieronymos.
A poll by Ethnos daily in April showed Greek opinion is split on the issue.
Over 48 percent of respondents said they oppose the legalisation of same-sex relations against 45.1 percent who are in favour.
The move in Greece comes days after a court in neighbouring Turkey ordered the closure of a leading Turkish homosexual rights lobby group after prosecutors accused it of breaching morality and family norms.
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