Five Years of Civil Union in Cyprus

09/12/2020 08:30:00CommentsBy Costas Gavrielides

Five years have passed since December 9, 2015, when the Law on Civil Union was published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cyprus and it became law, both for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
Aristos Damianou (AKEL) addresses the plenary of the House before the adoption of the Civil Union Law on 26 November 2015.
Days before, on the evening of 26 November 2015, the law had been passed in the plenary session of the House after strong opposition. With 39 votes in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions, we have had one of the biggest social changes in our country since civil marriage, the size of which I understand best as time goes on.

Before the law was passed, for a number of years we heard dangers that culminated in the many debates on the issue in Parliament. Those of us who were there, as well as all those who watched the public debate, lived through historic moments full of tension, catastrophizing and public debates between MP's.

In fact, the most intense discussions were not in November 2015, but a few months earlier from May to July 2015, when the draft was, paradoxically, discussed in joint sessions of the Parliamentary Committees on Legal Affairs and Internal Affairs.
18 June 2015 - One of the joint sessions of the Parliamentary Committees on Legal Affairs and Home Affairs where the Civil Union Bill was discussed
18 June 2015 - One of the joint sessions of the Parliamentary Committees on Legal Affairs and Home Affairs where the Civil Union Bill was discussed
Initially, everyone's goal was for the bill to reach the plenary session before June 6, 2015, the day of the 2nd Pride March of Cyprus. The positive impact of the successful first course, a year earlier, and the dynamic public discourse that followed, led by Accept-LGBTI Cyprus, was, I believe, the reason why all parliamentary parties could not but officially support the bill. 

Internally, however, all parties faced dissent and serious opposition from MPs. Finally, the draft was put on the agenda for voting on July 9, 2015, the last sitting of the Parliament before the summer holidays. 

On the morning of July 9, 2015, it appeared that the text that would go to the vote was not what had been agreed in the meetings of the parliamentary committees of Internal Affairs and Legal Affairs during the intense, article-by-article debate. In particular, an important reference that underlined that persons entering into a civil union would be considered spouses, had been dismissed . This reduced the rights of couples who would choose Civil Union and put same-sex couples at a disadvantage, as they were given the option of Civil Marriage, as is the case with heterosexual couples.
4. Except as otherwise provided in this Law, a Civil Union concluded under the provisions of this Law, with the exception of the Adoption Law, shall, mutatis mutandis, have the corresponding effects and consequences as if a marriage had taken place under the provisions of the Marriage Law and any reference to the legislation of the Republic to a "spouse" will be interpreted as a reference to a partner in Civil Union.

When this effort was noticed, as President of Accept - LGBTI Cyprus, I contacted Averof Neophytou (DISY), Andro Kyprianou (AKEL) and Nikola Papadopoulos (DIKO), during the usual morning meeting of the Party Leaders before the plenary. The three of us had several discussions about the draft before and they strongly supported it. During our discussions, I informed them that the changes were not accepted by us as an LGBTI organization and that the text could not go to the plenary as it had been formulated. Otherwise the bill would continue to be a matter of debate even as soon as it was passed. All three agreed and committed to continue the discussions after the summer. As it happened. 

After several discussions between September and November 2015, on the night of November 26, the final text was finally moved to the Plenary Session of the Parliament. If I remember correctly, it was voted around 18.00, with several members of the Board of Accept, many friends and supporters watching the debate in the House of Representatives. Together with us was Alekos Modinos, pioneer of LGBTI rights in Cyprus.
Photo in parliament
November 26, 2015 - Together with several members of the Board of Accept, friends and supporters, the leader of the LGBTI rights in Cyprus, Alekos Modinos, attended the discussion with us.
DISI MPs Andreas Themistokleous, Aristotelis Misos, Efthimios Diplaros, Andreas Kyprianou, Evgenios Hampoulas and Georgios Tasou voted against the pact. From DIKO the MPs who voted against the bill were George Prokopiou, Antonis Antoniou and Sophocles Fittis. From AKEL, Panikkos Stavrianos  voted against, as did  Νikos Koutsou MP of the Citizens' Alliance and the, then independent, Zacharias Koulias DIKO MPs  Marios Karoyan, Angelos Votsis and Phytos Konstantinos abstained.
November 26, 2015 - Some of the MPs who voted against the Civil Union Act
Special mention should be made of the then chairmen of the two parliamentary committees that spearheaded and insisted on ending the process: Sotiris Sampson (DISY) who was Chairman of the Legal Affair Committee and Yiannos Lamaris (AKEL) who was Chairman of the Committee on the Internal Affairs. 

For the history, in addition to the above, special thanks are also due to  Nikolas Papadopoulos (DIKO), Averof Neophytou (DISY) and Andros Kyprianou (AKEL), both for their efforts and for not allowing a stalled bill to be passed. Again for history, warm thanks are due to Stella Kyriakidou (DISY), Aristos Damianou (AKEL), Skevi Koukouma (AKEL), Irene Charalambidou (AKEL) and Rula Mavronikola (EDEK) 
November 26, 2015 - DISY and DIKO MPs vote in favour of the Civil Union.

That's what happened then.

Since then we have had about 1700 Civil Unions, of which only 10% were among same-sex couples. Really, none of the hazards we heard were verified. Literally none. So much was heard but in essence all that was achieved was to help roughly 170 same-sex couples in 5 years to resolve practical problems they were facing due to discrimination. 

It is now clear that the law on Political Union needs to be changed, as well as the need to train officials who, due to ignorance, are unable to handle same-sex couples and often give incorrect information. It is understandable that the next step has been reached, which will be based on our experience of the last 5 years.

It is also time to officially open the chapter of Civil Marriage for all couples and with it the issue of childbearing. The best interests of the child must prevail over the personal attachments of anyone, and the false impression that a same-sex couple are "worse" parents than a heterosexual must finally stop.

Outside the House after the voting of the new law.

Were you given incorrect information regarding the rights of the Civil Union in relation to Civil Marriage? Have you encountered problems with services or officers in this regard? 

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