The Portuguese parliament on Friday (8th January 2010) passed the Socialist government's bill to legalise same-sex marriages, which Prime Minister Jose Socrates said was an historic step in the country's fight against discrimination.
Socrates' minority government pushed the bill through the house with support from left wing parties, while alternative proposals by the centre-right opposition for civil partnerships and a referendum on the issue were rejected.
"It is a small change in the law, but a very important and symbolic step to fully realise values that are pillars of open, tolerant and democratic societies; freedom, equality and non-discrimination," Socrates told parliament ahead of the vote.
The bill gives gay marriages the same rights as heterosexual marriages, including those on taxes, inheritance and housing, but does not offer them the right to adopt children.
It marks another modernising step for this predominantly Catholic country, especially after abortion was legalised in 2007. But the Catholic Church warned against the move.
"Millenary culture deems marriage as a contract between a man and a woman. Changing this understanding of what is a family can have extremely grave consequences in the future," said Bishop Dom Jose Policarpo, Lisbon patriarch.
The bill now needs to be ratified by conservative President Anibal Cavaco Silva. If he approves it, Portugal will join Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and Canada in allowing gay marriages, all of which allow gay married couples to adopt children as well.
Gay and lesbian hopes had been dented by the rejection of the Left Bloc party's gay marriage bill and by a Constitutional Court upholding a ban last year.