Portuguese parliament approves same-sex marriage bill

By Barry Hatton
Saturday, January 9, 2010

LISBON -- Portugal's parliament passed a bill Friday that would make the predominantly Catholic nation the sixth in Europe to permit gay marriage.

Conservative President Aníbal Cavaco Silva is thought unlikely to veto the Socialist government's bill, which won the support of all left-of-center parties. His ratification would allow the first gay marriage ceremonies to take place in April -- a month before Pope Benedict XVI is due on an official visit to Portugal.

Right-of-center parties opposed the change and sought a national referendum on the issue, but their proposal was rejected and the government's bill passed by a 125 to 99 vote.

Gay rights campaigners applauded from the galleries, hugged and kissed outside the parliament building and ate wedding cake.

"This law rights a wrong," Prime Minister José Sócrates said in a speech to lawmakers, adding that it "simply ends pointless suffering." Sócrates said the measure is part of his effort to modernize Portugal, where homosexuality was a crime until 1982. Two years ago, his government lifted Portugal's ban on abortion, despite church opposition.

Gay marriage is permitted in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway. Canada, South Africa and six U.S. states also permit it.

Like neighboring Spain, which introduced same-sex marriages four years ago, Portugal is an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, and previous efforts to introduce gay marriage ran into strong resistance from religious groups and conservative lawmakers.

Paulo Corte-Real, head of the lobby group Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Intervention, said Portugal had become a pioneering country in gay rights.

"This is a historic moment. We just hope [the bill] gets ratified quickly," he said.

In 2001, a law allowed civil unions between same-sex couples that granted them certain legal, tax and property rights. But it did not allow couples to take their partner's name and inherit their possessions or their state pension, which is permitted in marriages.

A proposal from the Left Bloc and Green Party allowing gay couples to adopt children was voted down Friday. Gay rights campaigners said they would continue to fight for gay couples' parental rights.

-- Associated Press

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