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posted Friday, May 21, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 21
Pope fails in Portugal - Pres. Cavaco Silva ratifies marriage equality law
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Pope fails in Portugal - Pres. Cavaco Silva ratifies marriage equality law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a stunning rebuke to Pope Benedict XVI, the Portuguese president ratified his country's marriage equality law only three days after the Roman Catholic pontiff wrapped up a visit to Portugal.

Pres. Anibal Cavaco Silva announced his decision on May 17.

Cavaco Silva said he would not veto the measure because the Socialist lawmakers who passed the marriage equality bill in January would only override his veto.

Portugal needs to focus on battling a crippling economic crisis that has increased unemployment and deepened poverty rather than debating social issues, he said.

"Given that fact, I feel I should not contribute to a pointless extension of this debate, which would only serve to deepen the divisions between the Portuguese and divert the attention of politicians away from the grave problems affecting us," Cavaco Silva said.

He said he was setting aside his "personal convictions" about marriage, but he would not elaborate or answer questions from reporters.

While in Portugal, the pope used his May 13 visit to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Fatima to denounce same-sex marriages and abortion.

Benedict called on Roman Catholics to protect "the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today's most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good."

He also expressed his "deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socioeconomic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion."

The pope's remarks came on the third day of a four-day visit aimed at shoring up Catholic morale in an increasingly secular Portugal.

Benedict also used the visit to shift a more forceful tone in confronting his church's ongoing sex abuse scandal, which he has called a "sin inside the church."

In the context of the pope's visit, Pres. Cavaco's ratification of marriage equality can only be seen as a repudiation of Roman Catholic political influence.

Socialist Party spokesman Vitalino Canas welcomed the president's decision.

"This is a memorable moment," he said. "This is a great step forward for us politically and as a society."

Antonio Serzedelo, president of the LGBT lobby group Opus Gay, congratulated the president for placing "ethical responsibility above personal opinions."

"Opus Gay" is a pun referring to the secretive Catholic lay order "Opus Dei."

While 84.5% of Portuguese identify as Catholic, Portugal has seen a notable shift away from Catholic teaching in recent years.

The church was 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.

Only some 2 million of its almost 11 million people describe themselves as practicing Catholics.

Portugal legalized homosexuality in 1982.

In 2001, it 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, inherit property, or acquire survivorship rights to the partner's state pension.

The country legalized divorce in 2007 and abortion in 2008.

Parliament passed the marriage equality bill on January 8, 2010, by a vote of 123-99. The Roman Catholic Church was bitterly opposed to the measure - as it was to all the previous social reforms - but Portuguese society appears to be largely supportive.

Like neighboring Spain - which has also passed marriage equality legislation - Portugal is a parliamentary democracy in which the party that controls a majority in parliament makes up the country's government.

The Socialist Party led the Portuguese government from 1995 till 2002 and again from 2005 to the present.

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