Last edited: February 14, 2005

Houses passes gay sex bill

Cyprus Mail, Friday, May 22, 1998
24 Vassiliou Voulgaroctonou St., Nicosia
P O Box 1144, 1502 Nicosia, Cyprus

By Martin Hellicar

After years of political infighting in the face of strong church opposition, House of Representatives deputies finally bit the bullet yesterday and passed a bill decriminalising homosexuality.

The controversial legislation was approved with 36 votes for and eight against just eight days before a deadline set by the Council of Europe for amendment of the Island's antiquated gay laws.

House President Spyros Kyprianou said afterwards the bill was passed in order to avoid "serious consequences" for Cyprus' relations with Europe and only after changes were agreed to include provisions which "clearly state homosexuality is not encouraged".

The afternoon vote was delayed for more than two hours as party parliamentary teams wrangled in back rooms to cut a deal to overcome the objections of deputies unwilling to publicly 'support' homosexuality in the face of Church and public opposition.

Deputies tried all day yesterday to agree a formula whereby opponents of the bill would simply not attend the vote, as Akel - with 19 representatives in the 56-member House - were threatening to block it unless unanimous approval was agreed.

But in the end approval seems to have hinged on last-minute adjustments to the bill designed to ensure sex between consenting adult males was decriminalised but not "encouraged".

Speaking in his office after the vote, Kyprianou - whose Diko party opposed decriminalisation - did not say what these changes were but made it clear they had been decisive.

"I am as religious as the next person, my position is not one of encouraging homosexuality, but there are new provisions in the bill which clearly state the non-encouragement of homosexuality," he said.

These last-ditch adjustments also appeared to have dampened Church opposition to the bill. Speaking earlier in the day, Archbishop Chrysostomos said he had been assured by deputies the changes would mean homosexuality was not 'promoted'.

"The bill will decriminalise homosexuality but there will be provisions which allow measures to be taken if, say, a minor is involved or it is done in a public space... something like that," Chrysostomos said. Such provisions, he said, would "remedy the situation to some extent".

After the Church leader's statements only three demonstrators turned out to confront deputies as they entered the House yesterday. Orthodox traditionalists, who have previously demonstrated in numbers against the bill, had on Wednesday threatened to blacklist deputies who voted for the bill.

Kyprianou also said Cyprus could not buck the European trend on gay rights without paying a price. "All European countries cannot be wrong and we right," he said.

The Council of Europe had set May 29 as a final deadline for Cyprus to comply with a 1993 European Court of Human Rights ruling to decriminalise homosexual relations. The decriminalisation bill was tabled soon after the 1993 ruling but a vote was postponed repeatedly. Cyprus could have faced expulsion from the Council of Europe for failing to meet the final deadline.

"It was a serious decision by the House because it was an issue on which there were strong feelings both within the House and within society," Kyprianou said.

Five deputies of Kyprianou's Diko party (Tassos Papadopoulos, Nicos Moushioutas, Nicos Cleanthous, Marios Matsakis and Nicos Pittokopitis) voted against the bill while party general secretary Stathis Kittis was the sole abstainer. The other 'no' votes came from governing Disy's Stelios Stylianou, Stelios Yerasimou and Evangelos Sammoutas. Eleven deputies stayed away.

Gay activist Alecos Modinos - who made the appeal to the European Court of justice which precipitated the bill - said yesterday he was "pleased because the House has finally done its duty, even if it was at the last minute".

But he reserved final judgment on the new law until after the nature of the 'adjustments' became known, expressing fears that these provisions might amount to prejudicial treatment against homosexuals.

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