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Thursday, 20 August 2009

Cyprus: Ombudswoman says society must change its attitude to homosexuality


Source: Cyprus Mail

By Lucy Millett

THE OMBUDSWOMAN has accused the government of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the issue of gay rights.

In her capacity as head of the Anti-Discrimination Body, Iliana Nicolaou has said that the society must change its attitude to homosexuality and the state must stop behaving as though homosexual couples do not exist.

According to Nikolaou the government is guilty of discrimination by not recognising the rights of married gay couples to reside in EU states with their spouses even if they are from countries outside the bloc.

The Ombudswoman said that the state has an obligation to make it easier for partners to enter and reside in Cyprus, according to EU law.

The lack of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships means that non-EU nationals with Cypriot or EU partners are not granted residency and are often deported.

This happens despite the EU directive that Member States must facilitate entry and residence for people who are included in the definition of “family members”.

This should not be limited only to relations based on traditional marriage but also include people who live together. Member States must facilitate the right of residence of these partners, including spouses of a different sex, and must justify any refusal to grant entry or residence.

According to a Legal Services ruling last July, even though EU states are not obliged to accept gay partners of legal residents “taking into consideration the developments in human rights on homosexual issues, we can’t exclude the possibility of the European Court recognising gay relationships in the future. This would mean that EU states are obliged to accept gay partners as legal residents, like (heterosexual) married couples”

Nicolaou submitted her report to the Interior Ministry, requesting measures to stop all discrimination against gay couples. The report was based on two cases. One case involved an Iranian man in a relationship with a Cypriot man. The Iranian was denied political asylum even though he faced execution in Iran.

The Ombudswoman and two foreign NGOs asked for the case to be re-examined by the Asylum Revisory Authority, who eventually granted him asylum, deeming it too dangerous to send him back.

Nicolaou said: “Granting this man asylum was the first significant example of sensitisation towards the matter of discrimination against homosexual people and the persecution they suffer due to their sexual orientation.”

The second case involved a Canadian man in a civil marriage with a Cypriot man. The authorities have refused to grant him residency but only a visitor’s visa. As a result of this he cannot work, making life in Cyprus very difficult for him.

A 2006 poll showed that 75 per cent of Cypriots still disapprove of homosexuality, with only 14 per cent in favour of same-sex marriage and 10 per cent in favour of authorising adoption.

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