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Portugal passes marriage equality bill
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Portugal passes marriage equality bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On January 8 the Portuguese parliament approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was 123-99.

The bill would not allow same-sex couples to adopt children, but it was hailed by LGBT activists in Portugal as an important step toward full equality. Supporters of the measure applauded from the galleries, and then served wedding cake outside the parliament building.

For Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates, it was the fulfillment of his January 2009 campaign promise to legalize same-sex marriages if he were reelected.

All the left-wing parties joined the governing Socialists in voting Yes. The center-right Social Democratic deputies all voted No.

The bill must now be reviewed by a parliamentary committee before coming back for a final vote in parliament. It must then be ratified by the president, and formally entered in the Diario da Republica official gazette.

If all goes as planned, the first same-sex wedding could take place in April - ironically, just a month before an official visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva is a rightist, but he is expected to ratify the measure. Portugal is a parliamentary democracy, in which the president is a largely ceremonial figure. Even if the president vetoes the bill, parliament can re-pass it over his objections and order it entered into the Diario.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates took the floor in person to introduce the bill, saying it would put right an injustice that had caused unnecessary pain.

The opposition Social Democrats introduced a counter-proposal for expanded civil unions, but this was rejected as discriminatory by the Socialists. Portugal first approved limited civil unions in 2001 under a previous Socialist government.

The new law has been fiercely opposed by Roman Catholic conservatives. Rightist parties wanted a national referendum on the issue and circulated a petition that collected more than 90,000 signatures, but their proposal was rejected.

Marriage equality first became a national political issue in Portugal's 2005 elections. At that time, the Socialists failed to take a clear position on the proposal, although the Socialist Party's youth organization came out strongly in favor.

In 2008, the Left Bloc in the Portuguese parliament introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, but it was opposed by both the Socialists and the right, and failed 202-28.

The next year, Jose Socrates made passing the bill one of his campaign planks.

If and when the bill is ratified, Portugal will be the sixth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriages after Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway.

Portugal's Socialist Party has its origins in the 1974 "Carnation Revolution" which overthrew the previous rightist dictatorship. On April 25, 1975, it formed Portugal's first democratically elected government in almost 50 years. The Socialists have since formed three other governments, alternating with their right-wing opponents.

Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa - usually known simply as Jose Socrates - has been prime minister since 2005. He is divorced from his wife, under Portugal's civil divorce law passed on May 27, 1975, one of the first acts of the new democratically elected Socialist government.

Long-standing laws against homosexuality were repealed by a center-right government in 1982. Jose Socrates' government legalized abortions in 2008.

While 84.5% of Portugal's people are Roman Catholic, the church has been somewhat discredited by its association with the series of dictators who ruled Portugal from 1926-1974. The constitution of 1975 specifies that Portugal is a secular state.

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