Friday, January 8, 2010

Portugal Approves--NJ Rejects Gay Marriage



Portugal's parliament passed a bill yesterday allowing gay marriage in the mostly Roman Catholic country.

The Socialist government's bill won the support of all left-of-centre parties. Right-of-centre parties opposed the change and argued that it should be put to a national referendum.

The proposed law will go to the Portuguese president, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, who will decide whether to ratify or veto it, but a veto can be overturned by parliament. Its approval would make Portugal the sixth European country to allow same-sex marriages.

The prime minister, Jóse Sócrates, said the measure was part of his effort to modernise Portugal. Two years ago his government lifted a ban on abortion.

Meanwhile in the U.S. yesterday, a similar measure was voted down in New Jersey. The state Senate rejected a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage, dealing a formidable if unsurprising setback to gay-rights advocates nationwide.

After an hour and 40 minutes of heartfelt speeches, just 14 senators voted in favor of the bill, with 20 opposed. Twenty-one votes were needed for passage.

The U.S. national debate over same-sex marriage will take center stage in a California courtroom next week at a closely watched federal trial that could ultimately become the landmark case that determines whether gay Americans have a right to marry.

The case will decide a challenge to California's gay marriage ban that was approved by voters in 2008, and the ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. How the high court rules in the case could set the precedent for whether gay marriage becomes legal nationwide.

"This could be our Brown vs. Board of Education," said former Clinton White House adviser Richard Socarides, referring to the 1954 Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in schools and other public facilities. "Certainly the plaintiffs will tell you they are hoping for a broad ruling that says that any law that treats someone differently because of sexual orientation violates the U.S. Constitution."

The case marks the first federal trial to examine if the U.S. Constitution permits bans on gay marriages.

In Portugal yesterday, the Socialist government's bill won the support of all left-of-centre parties. Right-of-center parties opposed the change and sought a national referendum on the issue, but their proposal was rejected.

Voting figures were not immediately available but the President of Parliament Jaime Gama announced that the government's bill had passed, as was widely expected.

The proposed law goes to Portugal's conservative President Silva who can ratify or veto. The veto can be overturned by the parliament.

If there is no presidential veto, the first gay marriage ceremonies could take place in April - a month before Pope Benedict XVI is due on an official visit to Portugal.

Its approval would make Portugal the sixth European country to allow same-sex marriages. Gay marriage is currently permitted in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway.

"This law rights a wrong," Prime Minister Jose Socrates said in a speech to lawmakers, adding that it "simply ends pointless suffering."

The bill removes a reference in the current law to marriage being between two people of different sexes.

"It's a slight change to the law, it's true. But it is a very important and symbolic step towards fully ensuring respect for values that are essential in any democratic, open and tolerant society: the values of freedom, equality and non-discrimination," Socrates said.

He said a referendum was not necessary because the gay marriage proposal was included in the Socialist Party's manifesto in last September's general election, when it was returned to power.

Socrates said the measure is part of his effort to modernize Portugal. Two years ago his government lifted Portugal's ban on abortion.

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.

Homosexuality was a crime in Portugal until 1982. In 2001, a law allowed "civil unions" between same-sex couples which granted them certain legal, tax and property rights. However, it did not allow couples to take their partner's name, inherit their possessions nor 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 campaigners said they would continue to fight for gay couples' parental rights.


— The Curator

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