Greece enacted in the early hours of Dec. 23 a landmark bill which allows civil partnership agreements between same-sex couples despite protests from opposition parties and the powerful Orthodox Church.
A growing number of European countries have established legislation allowing registered partnership rights to same-sex couples, including Britain, Spain and Cyprus, but the issue remains contentious in many other EU states.
Although Greece allowed such agreements for heterosexual couples in 2008 it excluded homosexual couples, a move which the European Court of Human Rights ruled discriminatory in 2013.
On Wednesday, 193 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted in favour of similar rights for gay and lesbian couples. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has promised social reforms to mitigate the negative impact of its EU/IMF bailout, said the bill closed "a circle of embarrassment for the state".
"Today we recognize the right of all people, regardless gender and sexual orientation, to live together and choose their own path in life as they see it fit. To have equal rights in life and death like all Greek citizens," Tsipras told parliament.
The draft law was approved by the socialist PASOK party, the centrist To Potami party, the Union of Centrists and several conservative deputies but was rejected by some lawmakers from Tsipras' right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks.
Their leader and Defence Minister Panos Kammenos did not appear for the vote, which was completed after midnight.
Dozens of activists rallied outside parliament as lawmakers debated the bill, while in a symbolic move, two activists dressed in clerical dresses kissed outside Athens' Metropolitan Church, in front of a banner that read "Love is not a sin" in reaction to the stance of the Orthodox Church who is against the civil partnership.
The bill does not allow same-sex couples to marry or adopt children and does not give them similar pension, labour and tax rights, gay activists said.
"We have to say that it is a very small step in comparison to the great, the huge inequalities faced by the LGBTQ+ people in Greece," said activist Dimitra Kyrilou, a civil engineer.
The bill was also rejected by the Communist party, the far-right Golden Dawn party whose leader said "church bells should toll mournfully across the country", and the Orthodox Church.
"Golden Dawn is against the civil partnership and will vote against it. We consider that the institution of the family is a natural one, one that is blessed by our religion, by the Church of Greece," said Golden Dawn party leader, Nikos Mihaloliakos.