The June 2008 nuptials of two gay couples in Greece have been annulled by a Greek court, Reuters news service reports.

Last year, two couples, one gay another lesbian, married on the small Aegean island of Tilos. The ceremony, officiated by Anastassios Aliferis, the island's Socialist mayor, was shrouded in secrecy until the last minute.

The couples claimed they were free to marry because Greek civil law does not specify gender in matrimony.

“The court said the weddings were invalid,” the defendants' lawyers, Vassilis Hirdaris, told Reuters. “We will appeal within May … but I fear the appeal court's decision won't be different, considering how conservative Greek courts are.”

Officials with the influential Greek Orthodox Church widely condemned the marriages. Former Archbishop Chritodoulous of Athens once called being gay a “defect.”

Greece remains a stronghold for anti-gay sentiment in an increasingly liberal Europe. Many European countries have legalized gay marriage – Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium and Spain – or gay unions.

“Greece is depriving some of its citizens of their human rights,” said Evangelia Vlami, one of the spouses and a prominent gay activist.