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Religion et questions éthiques

The Church of Cyprus has for centuries been the main structured authority representing the Greek Orthodox community. Over time, it has increased its importance in social and political matters in the island and is closely tied to its cultural identity. According to basis joint EVS/WVS surveys, over 90% percent of the population identify themselves as Greek Orthodox and approximately 50% attend religious services at least on a monthly basis. The power assembled throughout the centuries allows influencing the daily life of citizens, particularly on matters linked to ethical values.

Abortion
In Cyprus, abortion was considered a criminal offence until 2018 when the Plenary of the Cyprus Parliament has amended the provisions of the Penal Code to decriminalise abortion. Specifically, on 30 March 2018, it was decided with 33 votes in favour, 8 against and 5 abstentions, to allow abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and up to the 19th week in cases of rape of the woman. In summary, Law abides in Cyprus that the termination of a pregnancy is allowed up to the 12th week, while in cases of rape, sexual abuse of a mentally disabled woman or incest it is up to the 19th week. These facts have to be proven in writing to the doctor who will undertake the procedure. Previously, it was prohibited for a woman to request an abortion without a reason, therefore it was only allowed in cases in which the psychosomatic state of the pregnant woman was threatened, or if the pregnancy resulted from abusive behaviour such as rape. Besides, Cyprus was one of the first countries to allow abortion. This was done following the Turkish invasion in 1974, as there were a very important number of cases of rape and thus those who had been raped had been allowed to carry out an abortion.
Before abortion was decriminalised by law, it used to be possible only in the case of a serious reason (rape, incest, risk to the health of the fetus and the woman). In Cyprus, there are still barriers to abortion, as public hospitals do not provide such services on demand, and if they do so, it will only if the demander is in direct danger. Thus, those concerned go to private clinics. According to a joint survey of EVS/WVS, society still faces this social matter with disapproval in all its aspects linked to their religious beliefs. Specifically, 7 out of 10 Greek Cypriots find no justification to carry out an abortion whether the pregnant woman is married or not.

Blasphemy
It is important to note that in Cyprus, while the right to freedom of expression is recognised as a fundamental right, it is not absolute. Article 10(2) of the ECHR states that the right to freedom of expression is subject to limitations which must be prescribed by law and recognised as necessary. Therefore, the right to freedom of expression is not unconditional and is subject to limitations which must be strictly interpreted and justified by a judicial decision.
It is important to stress out that Cyprus is among the few European countries that continue to legislate to criminalise blasphemy, and restrict freedom of expression when it relates to religion. In particular, Article 141 of the Cyprus Penal Code criminalises the expression of a person made with the intention of offending the religious feelings of another person, and Article 142 criminalises the publication of an opinion which can be perceived by a class of persons as a public insult to their religion, with the intention of humiliating that religion, or scandalising or defaming those who profess that religion.

Civil Marriage
Civil marriage is a legal status recognised in all EU countries. In Cyprus, civil marriage has been established in 1923 and is normally executed. It is a simplified ceremonial procedure preferred by many couples not only from Cyprus but also from other countries who choose to enter into this marriage in Cyprus specifically because of its shortened procedures. According to Law 104(I) of 2003, the procedure is as follows : couples who wish to be united through civil marriage in Cyprus should appear before the Marriage Official, usually the Mayor, of the Municipality of their choice, in order to carry out the necessary procedures. Civil marriage was established in Bulgaria in 1945 and in Greece in 1982. In fact, part of the tourists coming to Cyprus every year go there to celebrate their wedding as well as to spend a holiday with their family or friends, especially when their religious beliefs prevent them from a legal marriage state in their country.
At this point it should be underlined that Cypriot society remains conservative in matters of marriage. According to EVS (2008), approximately 85% state that religious beliefs are important for a successful marriage. In addition, 20% state they would not like to have unmarried couples as neighbours. A very important outcome from EVS is that only 30% of the respondents stated that they lived with their partner before the marriage, and only 25% strongly agree that sex is acceptable before marriage.

Civil Servant religious oath
In Cyprus, the President of the Republic of the island is not obliged when he takes the office to take a religious oath on the Gospel, in order to assure the public that he will not deviate from the Constitution and the laws, something which occurs in the similar ceremonial procedure in Greece. Furthermore, and despite the fact that religion has been "removed" from identity cards, the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, ministers and members of parliament take the oath of allegiance in the "name of the Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity" in the presence of priests. Of course, this only applies to Orthodox Christians, since the Constitution allows for non-religious MPs to take the oath of office on the basis of the formulas of their own religious beliefs.

Homosexuality
Despite the modification of the law in 1998, homosexuality is considered as a taboo subject within the society. The percentage of justification remains low, although, there is a significant increase between 2008 and 2018, reaching to almost 40%. A vital revolution in this matter is that the House of Representatives in Cyprus has recognised the Law on Civil Partnerships on 9 December 2015. Legislating on civil cohabitation was approved by the Cypriot Parliament on 26 November 2015, conferring the option to "two heterosexual or homosexual people" to conclude a "written agreement", known as a "civil partnership agreement". An addition to this, same-sex couples can celebrate their wedding without any discrimination. The process is simple, turning Cyprus into an attractive tourist destination.
Despite the long-standing power of the Church of Cyprus and its century-old presence in all areas of the daily life of the individual, it seems that the presence of Cyprus as a full member of the European Union has brought changes in legislation that gradually lead to the secularisation of the state. Steps forward have also been taken at the individual level, but there is still a long way to go in fully separating religion from the personal choices of each individual.

D 7 novembre 2022    AChristos Anastasiadis

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