The European Court of Human Rights has decided that Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights by excluding same-sex couples from civil unions, which the country restricts to heterosexual couples.

In its decision, the court ruled that Greece had failed to provide a convincing justification for excluding same-sex couples. The government argued that it wanted to protect children of unmarried parents, but that did not constitute a valid reason, according the court, because the law’s real objective was the legal recognition of a new form of family life.

The law creating civil unions was created in 2008 as an alternative to marriage, but the law restricts it to ‘two physical individuals of different sex who have reached the age of majority.’

During the debate before the Hellenic Parliament, the Minister of Justice at the time declared: ‘We mustn’t include same sex couples. We are indeed convinced that the needs and demands of the Hellenic society do not cross this line; as a legislator, the political party in power is accountable to the Greek people; we have our own beliefs, and negotiations are over; I believe it is the way to go.’

LGBTI refugees suffer a setback

In a separate ruling, the court refused to rule that the criminalisation of consensual same-sex activity constitutes persecution for the purposes of EU asylum law.

Three people from from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda – all nations that criminalise sex between men – had sought asylum in the Netherlands, saying they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their undisputed same-sex sexual orientation.

The court affirmed that the prosecution and imprisonment of a person for such conduct would constitute persecution – but went on to say that the mere threat of imprisonment was not enough to be considered persecution.

Amnesty’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights, Sherif Elsayed-Ali, said: ‘The court missed a key opportunity to say that criminalising consensual same-sex conduct ultimately amounts to criminalising people for who they are and, therefore amounts to persecution, regardless of how often sentences of imprisonment are enforced.’

Anti-gay laws enable harassment and abuse, and deny LGBTI individuals – or those perceived to be LGBTI – protection to which they are entitled under international human rights law.