NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus's first Gay Pride march on Saturday will highlight the lack of legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens 16 years after homosexuality was decriminalized.
Gay couples in Cyprus do not have the same rights to social housing and other benefits as heterosexuals and miss out on other entitlements such as being consulted over medical treatment if a partner is ill.
"Nothing has happened to improve the legal rights of LGBT since 1998," said Costas Gavrielides, head of Accept LGBT Cyprus, a group representing some 700 people.
He noted that the government, elected in early 2013, had still not made good on a campaign pledge to submit legislation to allow gay civil partnerships to parliament within a year.
“We are strongly pushing for this to materialize ... We believe that society has moved on much more than politicians,” Gavrielides said, adding that many heterosexual supporters were also expected to join the march through the capital Nicosia.
Some sections of Cypriot society still consider homosexuality taboo, and the island's conservative Orthodox Church has described it as an "illness which needs treatment".
The Church's ruling body said in a recent statement that it opposed the "institutional and social acceptance" of homosexuality, which was not a "normal way of life".
A religious group said it plans a counter march on Saturday.
Cyprus only repealed laws criminals homosexuality in 1998, five years after a lone activist won a damning judgment against the country from the European Court of Human Rights.
Authorities in the island's Turkish Cypriot north, a self-declared state recognized only by Ankara, repealed a similar law left over from British colonial times in February. A gay pride march was held there on May 17.
The International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) ranks Cyprus among the lowest of all European countries for rights extended to the LGBT community.
But Gavrielides said social attitudes were changing, and that the Pride march would bring the island's gay community "into the limelight" and stimulate wider debate about the rights of minorities.
"Society in general is more accepting to LGBT than many think they are," he said.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Catherine Evans)