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Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 10:49 UK

Greece sees first gay 'marriage'

Evangelia Vlami
Evangelia Vlami told the BBC she hoped to encourage other couples

The mayor of a Greek island has defied the threat of prosecution to carry out the country's first gay "marriages".

Two men and two women were "married" by Tassos Aliferis in the ceremonies on the eastern Aegean island of Tilos.

Mr Aliferis conducted the proceedings despite Greece's top prosecutor having issued a directive saying that same-sex weddings were outlawed.

One of the women involved, Evangelia Vlami, was bubbling with excitement as she told the BBC she was "so happy".

"From this day, discrimination against gays in Greece is on the decline. We did this to encourage other gay people to take a stand," she said after the ceremony held at sunrise on Tuesday.

Hostility

However, the weddings are bound to cause a huge backlash in Greece, says the BBC's Athens correspondent Malcolm Brabant.

Although homosexual practices were widely tolerated in ancient Greece, the modern nation is exceedingly hostile towards gays, he adds.

I still can't believe that someone would be prosecuted for defending human rights
Tassios Aliferis
Mayor of Tilos

The conservative Greek Orthodox Church has expressed strong objections, and the country's Justice Minister, Sotiris Hatzigakis, said he believed gay marriages were illegal.

"If the Tilos mayor proceeds, he will have committed the criminal act of 'breach of duty'," Supreme Court prosecutor George Sanidas warned on Friday.

"We will go ahead despite the difficulties," retorted Mr Aliferis. "I still can't believe that someone would be prosecuted for defending human rights."

However, leaders of other municipalities who had previously considered officiating at gay weddings have backed down.

And while Ms Vlami was prepared to be identified, her partner was not.

Similarly, only one half of the male partnership, Dimitris Tsaibrounis, was happy to be named.

Gay campaigners believe they have found a loophole in Greek civil law, which does not clarify the gender of people wishing to marry.

But Greece has formally legalised neither gay marriage nor the "registered partnerships" becoming more common in other European countries.

The Netherlands offered full civil marriage rights to gay couples in 2001 and Belgium followed in 2003. Spain legalised gay marriage in 2005. The UK has legalised civil partnerships but not gay marriage.

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