Portuguese lesbian couple opens debate with marriage bid
Helena Paixao, 35, and Teresa Pires, 28, who have been together for over three years, plan to request the license on Wednesday afternoon in Lisbon, fully aware that the bid will more than likely be turned down.
Portuguese law currently does not allow for same-sex marriage but the couple say they plan to argue in court that this goes against the constitution, which was altered in 2004 to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"The more people talk openly about this issue the more strength our demand will have," Pires told AFP outside of a Lisbon television studio where the couple had just given their latest interview.
The two women are the first gay couple to mount a public challenge to marriage laws in Portugal, where the gay community has a low profile.
Staunchly Roman Catholic Portugal is one of western Europe's most socially conservative nations, partly a legacy of a right-wing dictatorship that ruled the country until 1974, and it has been slow to accept gay rights.
Gay couples were in 2001 given some of the same legal and tax benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples in common law marriages however public opinion polls show a majority of Portuguese oppose allowing gay marriages.
But since neighbouring Spain legalized same-sex marriage and adoptions by gay couples last year, with the support of the majority of the public, pressure from gay groups has been mounting in Portugal for Lisbon to do the same.
Over 4,000 people signed a petition submitted to parliament that demanded that the issue be debated in the assembly.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates, elected in a landslide last year, has repeatedly said gay marriage is not a priority of his government.
Pires and Paixao, who moved to the Atlantic port town of Aveiro from Lisbon a few months ago, said they are mounting their challenge because they want the same rights as married couples.
They said they want to be able to obtain a joint mortgage or be the legal guardian of each other's children.
The couple live together with Paixao's daughter Marisa. Pires is also the mother of a young daughter but she said a court argued she lacked the "right moral conditions" and it refused to give her custody of her child.
"We have nothing to lose," said Paixao.
Their lawyer, Luis Rodrigues, has taken up their cause for free. He said he was optimistic that the legal challenge would be successful.
"For me, the legalization of gay marriage in Portugal is just a matter of time," he said.
Last month Britain became the latest country to recognize some form of gay union, following Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.