Georgian Orthodox Church to wed 400 couples on International Day Against Homophobia

10 May 2018
Family purity day on 17 May 2017 (/OC Media)

The Georgian Orthodox Church is to host 400 marriages on 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). The Church declared 17 May the Family Purity Day in 2014, a year after a priest-led rally attacked a small group of queer rights activists who gathered to protest discrimination.

The mass wedding will be organised by the Patriarchate’s Chokhosnebi, a conservative group famous for wearing traditional Georgian male dress chokha and advocating ‘Georgian traditions’ and ‘family values’.

Zviad Sekhniashvili, the head of the group told Netgazeti they were hosting the mass wedding on 17 May on purpose. Sekhniashvili also said that they would give priority to couples who already lived together but didn’t get married yet.

According to Sekhniashvili, 20 couples will get married in a ceremony in Tbilisi and up to 400 couples will get married in the country.

It is expected that queer rights activists will hold a demonstration on the same day to mark IDAHOT.

Civil partnerships

In 2017, Georgia’s Parliament adopted a package of constitutional amendments, one of which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This definition already existed in the law and since queer rights groups never demanded equal marriage rights, they accused the Parliament of populism.

Georgia’s Public Defender has called on the government to legally recognise same-sex relationships, for example with civil partnerships. In their 2017 report, the Public Defender also denounced recent constitutional changes defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

[Read more about Ombudsman’s report on queer rights in Georgia on OC Media: Public defender urges Georgia to adopt civil partnerships for queer couples]

The 2 April report said the amendments to the constitution will worsen homophobia and spread hatred in society. It said that unless queer relationships are legally recognised, the constitution ‘will contradict the standards of the European Court of Human Rights and the OSCE’s recommendations’.

Campaign for civil partnerships

The Equality Movement, a local queer right’s group, launched a campaign in April to raise awareness for the concept of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The organisation created several videos in which queer couples and activists share their experiences.

IDAHOT 2013 and Family Purity Day

In 2013, a small group of around 50 queer rights activists were confronted in Tbilisi by thousands of counter-demonstrators led by Georgian Orthodox priests. Demonstrators carried posters with homophobic messages such as: ‘We don’t need Sodom and Gomorrah in Georgia’.

The crowds, some carrying nettles to beat queer rights activists with, broke through police lines to attack the activists. Police were forced to evacuate the small number of activists from the city centre to avoid further violence.

Georgia’s Orthodox Church has been commemorating Family Purity Day on May 17 since 2014. The Church held a counter-rally from Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue to Sameba Cathedral in support of ‘family values’. The rally was attended by several thousand people.

International Day Against Homophobia is observed annually in more than 120 countries on 17 May. The date was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organisation’s decision in 1990 to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases.

Homophobic violence in Georgia

In 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office examined 86 alleged hate crimes, 12 out of which were based on sexual orientation and 37 on gender identity.

The Public Defender’s report says violence against queer people, whether in the family or in public spaces, is a serious problem, and that the government has been unable to respond to this challenge.

The report said the Public Defender received numerous complaints regarding homophobic attitudes from law enforcement officials.

‘In some cases, complainants withdrew cases and refused to cooperate with the general inspection or the Prosecutor’s Office because they didn’t believe an investigation into their cases would be timely’, the report reads.

The report said transgender women in particular often appeal to the Public Defender’s Office about violence they face.

‘Unfortunately, law enforcement officials don’t have an efficient strategy against hate motivated violence. They react to individual cases and don’t take action against the systematic problem’, the report reads.

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