ATHENS, Greece Three islanders from Lesbos told a court Tuesday that gay women insult the island's identity by calling themselves lesbians.
The plaintiffs two women and a man want to ban a Greek gay rights group from using the word "lesbian" in its name. The hearing comes during a broad debate on gay rights in Greece, prompted by the country's first same-sex marriages, which took place this month.
Also known as Mytilini, Lesbos was the home of the ancient poet Sappho, who praised love among women. It is a major travel destination for gay women.
The Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece "causes confusion by using a geographic term in connection with (the group's) special character and social action," said Dimitris Papadelis, a lawyer representing the islanders.
Ioannis Ahlotas, a witness for the plaintiffs, told the Athens court the group's name caused embarrassment to the women of Lesbos. He said they hesitate to call themselves Lesbians for fear of being considered gay.
But a spokeswoman for the group accused the plaintiffs of homophobia.
"I believe ... the other party's intentions were purely racist," Evangelia Vlami said. "They showed that what bothers them is a specific sexual orientation."
"What will they do next, sue the United Nations? They, too, use the term lesbian," said Vlami, who was one partner last week in Greece's first lesbian marriage. "Millions of men and women, irrespective of their sexual preferences, use the term as a designation of sexual orientation."
Plaintiff Dimitris Lambrou has insisted the lawsuit "is not an aggressive act against gay women."
Sappho lived from the late 7th to the early 6th century B.C. and is considered one of the greatest poets of antiquity. Many of her poems, written in the first person and intended to be accompanied by music, contain passionate references to love for other women.
Lawyers from both sides will submit written arguments Wednesday. The court is expected to issue its decision in the next six months.
The hearing comes a week after the mayor of the tiny Aegean Sea island of Tilos performed the country's first same-sex civil marriages for a gay and a lesbian couple.
Greece's Justice Minister said the marriages were illegal and invalid. A conservative Orthodox Church bishop described them as weddings of "humanoid couples."
In a statement Tuesday, the Church of Greece's governing body said homosexuality "contravenes God's will and the teachings of the Bible."