The year 2007 proved to be one of the most important in the struggle for recognition of equal rights to LGBT citizens in Portugal in recent times. A growing awareness of the issue in all groups of society, official acknowledgment of the LGBT movement and several symbolic moments of struggle in the recognition for same-sex marriage, have made 2007, if not a landmark year, at least a year when the roots of equality gained increased strength.
On the 17th of May 2007, the Socialist Youth launched a national awareness campaign against homophobia (under the banner Somos Iguais a Ti – We’re just like you), which prompted a significant debate in the national media and fierce reactions from the conservative right and homophobic extreme right radicals. This particular action was inline with the Socialist Youth’s priorities in assuring equal rights to LGBT people and, particularly, with its intention of promoting a change in Portuguese legislation in what regards same-sex marriage. The position of the Portuguese Socialist Youth is very clear in this field: the only way to ensure full recognition of rights between all citizens mandates a change of legislation and the introduction of access to marriage contracts by same-sex couples, the existing recognition of legal effects to same-sex unions being clearly insufficient to ensure equal treatment to all. Our organization has therefore prepared a piece of draft legislation, altering the Portuguese Civil Code and abolishing the exclusiveness of marriage as a contract between to persons of different genders, and is currently awaiting for an opportunity to put it before a vote in parliament.
Also in 2007, an appeal to the Constitutional Court on the conformity of the existing provisions of the Civil Code was made for the first time. After an attempt to get married at the Civil Registry in 2006 failed due to the refusal of the registry and of the courts to recognize that denying them the right to marry represented a discrimination based on their sexual orientation, two women from the northern city of Aveiro took their case to the Constitutional Court. Although a final ruling on this issue is expected only in the second semester of 2008, this case has raised sympathy for their struggle and promoted the national debate on the issue.
In spite of the fact that the major change represented by same-sex marriage is still not visible in the near horizon, several other important political, legislative and administrative reforms have defined a new concern of public bodies with the rights of LGBT people. The fact that the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All coincided with the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union strongly contributed to theses developments.
One of the major reforms completed by the socialist Government, the reform of Public Administration encompassed a major change in relation to the LGBT movement and its main concerns. For the first time, a public body, the Commission for Gender Equality and Citizenship (Comissão para a Cidadania e Igualdade de Género), will have competences in the fight against homophobic discrimination, and the most important associations of the LGBT movement have been invited to join its Consultative Council. Furthermore, the Commission organized the first ever publicly sponsored conference on LGBT rights, which gathered academics and activists at the University of Lisbon and is associated to the Ministry of Education in a broad initiative in the field of Education for Citizenship in public schools, where the promotion of the recognition of equal rights and the fight against all types of homophobia are important items on the program.
Another major reform, that of the Penal Code, also made a clear break with the past and specifically made homophobic hate crimes and violence a punishable offense, ensuring that all forms of criminal discrimination are dealt with resolutely by the state. This change was the logical consequence of the explicit reference to the protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Portuguese Constitution since 2004, one of very few throughout the globe to do so. Not only do these changes carry important legal consequences for the protection of LGBT people, but they also encompass a remarkable symbolic message.
As we approach the International Day Against Homophobia, the Socialist Youth is once again preparing a national awareness-raising campaign against homophobia, which will be launched on May 17th 2008 and will, once more, focus on reaching people of all ages. Although the tasks ahead in the path to full equality are still considerable and arduous, it is becoming increasingly evident that the younger generations of Portuguese citizens will play a major role in the positive changes to come and are unwilling to wait much longer for equal rights for all.
Pedro Delgado Alves
ECOSY Bureau Member from the Juventude Socialista (Portugal)