Portuguese lesbian couple weds in Catholic country’s 1st gay marriage

By Barry Hatton, AP
Monday, June 7, 2010

Lesbian couple weds in Portugal’s 1st gay marriage

LISBON, Portugal — Two lesbians who were pioneers in bringing gay marriage to Portugal wed on Monday, becoming the first couple to enjoy the benefits of the law they helped usher into this predominantly Catholic country.

Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao, divorced Portuguese mothers in their 30s who have been together since 2003, married in a 15-minute ceremony at a Lisbon registry office, taking advantage of a law introduced last month when the country’s conservative president reluctantly ratified the legislation.

“This is a great victory, a dream come true,” Pires said as the couple kissed and hugged.

“Now we’re a family, that’s the important thing,” Pires said, adding they would continue to fight for equal rights for homosexuals, including adoption.

Parliament passed the bill in January, making Portugal the sixth country in Europe to let same-sex couples wed. Elsewhere in Europe, gay marriage is permitted in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway. As well, five U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage, as have Canada and South Africa.

The president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, said in ratifying the bill that he would not veto it because majority liberal lawmakers would just overturn his decision. He said the country needed to focus instead on battling a crippling economic crisis that has increased unemployment and deepened poverty.

The center-left Socialist government said the law is part of its effort to modernize Portugal, where homosexuality was a crime until 1982. Three years ago the same government lifted Portugal’s ban on abortion, despite church opposition.

Pires and Paixao, the lesbian couple, had campaigned for a change in the law since a registry office turned them away when they first tried to marry in 2006.

Officials argued the law stipulated that marriage was between people of different sexes. The women appealed to Portugal’s Constitutional Court because the constitution forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The court rejected their appeal, but left-of-center parties in Parliament supported the government bill which removed the reference to marriage being between different sexes.

As in neighboring Spain, which introduced same-sex marriages four years ago, previous efforts in Portugal to introduce gay marriage ran into strong resistance from religious groups and conservative lawmakers.

Gay rights advocates have said they will continue to fight for gay couples’ parental rights, including adoption, which are not included in the law.

In 2001, Portugal passed a law allowing “civil unions” between same-sex couples, which granted couples certain legal, tax and property rights. However, it did not allow couples to take a partner’s name, nor inherit his or her possessions or state pension.

will not be displayed