This week, two courts, half of a world apart, have substantially advanced the cause of gay rights. In Portugal, a high court has approved gay marriage legislation as constitutional, meaning it is very likely to become law. And in a very different but equally important victory, a gay political party in the Philippines that was previously deemed illegal has been given the right to run in the upcoming national elections.
Gay marriage is legal in five European nations: Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Now, Portugal appears poised to be next. In February, the Portuguese parliament approved a gay marriage bill that was then sent to President Anibal Cavaco Silva for approval. Cavaco Silva is opposed to gay marriage, and in the last year he had an apparent ally in the Constitutional Court, which had recently ruled three-to-two against a marriage petition by a lesbian couple. President Cavaco Silva sent four of the bill's five articles to the Constitutional Court for consideration. And though the court had not thought the lesbian couple had a constitutional right to marry, it did not disagree that Parliament might grant that right. In an opinion released Thursday, the court voted three-to-two that the new gay marriage bill is constitutional. The president may choose to veto the legislation, but Prime Minister Jose Socrates, head of the Socialist Party-controlled parliament, has said that he would overturn such a veto.
In the Philippines, the issue isn't gay marriage, but gay representation. Next month, citizens of the Philippines will elect a new president, vice president, and members of the lower house of their legislature. The Philippine Constitution requires that 20 percent of the 250 seats in the House of Representatives be reserved for "labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector." If a party representing a "marginal constituency" reaches two percent of the vote, it is guaranteed representation. But last November, the Elections Commission ruled that the Ang Ladlad ("Coming Out") party could not participate in the election. They cited moral reasons, and the fact that the party might offend Christians and Muslims. But this week, the Supreme Court overruled that decision.
"The Comelec is directed to grant petitioner's application for party-list accreditation," the court's ruling said. The judges ignored arguments by the petitioners that Ang Ladlad creates "an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith." Instead, the justices said, "we recall that the Philippines has not seen fit to criminalise homosexual conduct." In a Facebook and Twitter message to supporters, the party told its members, simply, "We won! We won! Philippine Supreme Court says YES to Ang Ladlad partylist. Long live LGBTs."
Long live LGBTs!