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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage

Recognition of same-sex civil
unions and marriages in Portugal

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In 1989, Denmark was the first state in the European Union to create civil unions to recognize the validity of loving, committed same-sex unions. France introduced a similar arrangement -- called Civil Solidarity Pacts -- in 1999. In 2001, Finland, Germany and Portugal also legalized civil unions.

During 2010-FEB, the Assembly of the Republic passed a bill to allow same-sex marriage (SSM). The law was ruled to be constitutional by the Portugese Constitutional Court during 2010-APR. Anibal Cavaco Silva, the president of Portugal, signed the bill into law on 2010-MAY-17.

Portugal is the sixth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriage; the others are: Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. Elsewhere in the world, Canada and South Africa have also legalized SSM. Portugal thus bechame the eight nation in the world to have implemented marriage equality for all their citizens. 1,2

About 90% of Portuguese adults are Roman Catholics. However, only about 20% describe themselves as practicing Catholics.

Portions of the following essay are based on Google automated translations of articles originally written Portuguese. Some of the resulting phrases are somewhat stilted. For accuracy, we recommend consulting the original articles in Portuguese.

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Timeline towards the achievement of marriage equality:

  • 1976: A new constitution for Portugal was adopted. It bans discrimination on the basis of gender.

  • 1982: Same-gender sexual acts were decriminalized. 6

  • 2001: Civil unions became available to same-sex couples. Although some of the rights and privileges given to opposite-sex married couples were granted to "civil unionized" couples, spouses were forbidden to adopt children, assume their partner's name, inherit their possessions, or inherit a state pension. 3

  • 2004: Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was banned. Article 13-2 (Principle of equality) of the Constitution states: "No one shall be privileged, favoured, prejudiced, deprived of any right or exempted from any duty on the basis of ancestry, sex, race, language, place of origin, religion, political or ideological beliefs, education, economic situation, social circumstances or sexual orientation." 4 This placed the Constitution in conflict with the marriage act.

    This change to the Constitution rejected the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church -- the main religious faith in the country -- which teaches that some forms of discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals are moral and needed.

  • 2005: SSM was a hot topic during the national elections. The Social Democratic Party and other conservative political parties were very strongly opposed to SSM. Two left-of-center parties -- the Left Bloc and Green Party -- were strongly supportive of SSM. The Socialist Party won the election; they were largely non-committal on SSM, although their youth wing were strongly supportive. Prime Minister José Sócrates stated that his government had no intention to introduce legislation to legalize SSM during his government's four year term in office.

  • 2006: A lesbian couple, Teresa Pires and Helena Paixão, went to a registry office in Lisbon and applied for a marriage license. They were refused solely because they are of the same gender. They launched a lawsuit

  • 2007: The trial court rejected the couple's suit. They appealed to the Portuguese Tribunal Constitucional (the Portuguese Constitutional Court) in Lisbon. As the name implies, a main function of the court is to rule on the constitutionality of Portuguese laws. The plaintiffs' submission included legal opinions from seven professors of law who agreed that the ban on SSM was unconstitutional.

  • 2008: A bill to legalize SSM was crushed in the Assembly by a vote of 28 in favor and 202 opposed.

  • 2009-MAY: A gay-positive group, The Movement for Equality in Access to Civil Marriage was organized to promote marriage equality. They obtained the support of José Saramago, a Nobel laureate in literature, and Mayor António Costa, of Lisbon.

  • 2009-JUL: By a 3 to 2 decision, the Constitutional Court ruled that the constitution does not require that SSMs be recognized, nor does it require that they be banned. The Assembly is thus free to pass legislation to legalize SSM. Plaintiff Helena Paixao regarded the split decision as "a victory" because it shows that attitudes are changing in the country. She said: "It shows there's a change coming. Bit by bit people will come around" and accept same-sex marriage. 7

  • 2009-SEP: Prime Minister Sócrates and his Socialist Party was re-elected. Early in the year, Sócrates had promised to introduce a SSM bill if his party retained power.

  • 2009-NOV: The Social Democratic Party, a conservative group, proposed that a referendum be held on marriage equality. This was rejected by the Socialists and the two other left-of-center parties. Prime Minister Sócrates said: "With the mandate given to us by the electorate, the Government will extend the fight against all forms of discrimination and present, in this parliament, a bill to remove existing legal barriers to civil marriage between same-sex [couples]. 8

    Fr. Manuel Marujao, spokesman for the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, said: "As there was a referendum for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, there should also be one for homosexual marriage. ... [A referendum would allow a] clarifying debate. ... You do not decide behind the people’s back without a previous clarification of public opinion."

    Archbishop Jorge Ortiga of Braga, president of the Bishop’s Conference, criticized "... concepts of equality that consider as insignificant the natural difference between men and women, and proposing a uniformity for all individuals, as if there were no sexual difference between persons. Consequently, this would lead -- and inevitably so -- to consider [all] sexual behavior and tendencies on an equivalent basis. ... Homosexual unions [incorrectly] claim to enjoy a status identical to that of the family." 5

  • 2009-DEC: The government introduced a SSM bill which would implement marriage equality. One exception would be that same-sex couples would not be allowed to adopt children. This was acceptable to most of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement as a first step towards full equality.

  • 2010-JAN-08: After a heated debate, the Assembly passed the bill through first reading. The Assembly rejected a motion on the same day calling for a referendum on SSM.

  • 2010-FEB-11: The bill was passed by the Assembly by avote of 123 to 99. 6It removes from the civil code the requirement that spouses be of "opposite sex." It states that civil "Marriage is a contract between two people wishing to form families through full communion of life. ... The amendments made by this Act do not involve the legal admissibility of adoption in any of its forms, by married persons of the same sex." 9 The bill was later sent to President Aníbal Cavaco Silva for signature.

  • 2010-FEB-19: The Portuguese Union of Seventh-day Adventists, the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church's international relations department of the Patriarch of Lisbon issued a joint statement. They expressed "deep concern for the institution of marriage as it faces the threat of redefinition. ... Extending the concept of marriage to encompass forms other than monogamous heterosexual marriage involves the subversion of the concept and further weakening of the primary unit of the country which is the [heterosexual] family. ... Only a man and a woman are complementary. There is no alternative to them as a reproductive unit to perpetuate the species." They apparently discount the possibility of artificial insemination by lesbian couples.

  • 2010-MAR-13: President Silva asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the bill. They ruled 11 to 2 on APR-08 in the affirmative. Two members of the court further ruled that the constitution requires the legalization of SSM.

  • 2010-MAY-17: President Silva, who is a Roman Catholic, signed the bill into law. He said that he put his "personal convictions" aside in deciding to approve the legislation. In a televised address to the nation, he regretted that the country's political parties could not reach a consensus on SSM. He said that if he vetoed the bill, it would only be rapidly overturned by the Assembly. Referring to an impending economic crisis, he said: "... I feel I should not contribute to a pointless extension of this debate, which would only serve to deepen the divisions among Portuguese and divert the attention of politicians away from the grave problems affecting us." 6
  • 2010-MAY: Pope Benedict XVI visited Portugal. He criticized both same-sex marriage and abortion access as "insidious and dangerous threats to the common good."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Portugal allows same-sex marriage," ABC News (Australia), 2010-MAY-18, at:
  2. "Same-sex marriage in Portugal," Wikipedia, 2010-MAY-21, at:
  3. Barry Hatton, "Portugal's president ratifies gay marriage law," Associated Press, 2010-MAY-17, at:
  4. Cited in "Love, hate and the law: decriminalizing homosexuality," Amnesty International, 2008, at:
  5. "Portugal: Debate over homosexual marriage," Documentation Information Catholiques Internationales (DICI), 2009-DEC-17, at:
  6. "Gender equality: same-sex marriage in Portugal," 2010-JAN-14, at:
  7. "Portugal Gay Marriage Ban Upheld By Court," Huffington Post, 2009-JUL-31, at:
  8. "Socrates rejects referendum on gay marriage," Jounal de Noticias, 2009-NOV-05, at:
  9. Lusa, "Constitutional Court will review homosexual marriage," Ionline, 2010-MAR-13, at:

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-MAY-21
Latest update: 2010-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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