Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Parabéns, Portugal!

Remember when you first learned that once upon a time the pope drew a line from north to south through Latin America and told the Portuguese they could have all the land east of the line and Spain could have the rest? Wow, what power. Here you go, fellows. No need to fight any more. There’s plenty for all of you.

Times have changed. Last week the pope was in Portugal telling everybody how important it was for them to stand up and fight against the idea of same-sex marriage. Right up there with abortion as two of the most “insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”

With the words barely out of the pope’s mouth, what does Portugal go and do? Legalize same-sex marriage. Just the way their neighbor, Spain, did, in 2005. Signed yesterday and due to take effect in a few days. Signs that the power of the church ain’t what it used to be. Sort of makes you want to say a novena, doesn’t it.

Slow but sure world-wide recognition of the legitimacy of same-sex relationships actually seems to be speeding up. It’s in the wings in Ireland, Iceland, Nepal, Slovenia, and Luxemburg. Estonia's Social Democratic party has endorsed the idea and the Centre and Reform parties have stated they will tolerate it. The idea has gotten off the ground and is becoming impossible to avoid. To date, it has been considered in some fifty countries, legalized in eight countries, and in parts of three more. It is recognized, though not performed in Israel and Holland’s former colonies. Civil unions and registered partnerships are now recognized in some twenty countries and performed in some jurisdictions of Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela – all traditionally catholic countries, by the way.

Sometimes, civil rights for gay people seem to involve a dance where you go one step forward and two steps back. And Portugal and the United States look like they’re dancing like a couple. Portugal leads, having approved of same-sex marriage, but not of the right of gay couples to adopt children. In California, we have the reverse – the right to adopt, but not the right to marry, a fact which says much about how confused and contentious the issue is.

And so it goes, in fits and starts. But keep your eye on the prize. It’s out there.

Not a major issue to most people, this extension of rights to gay people – and with it a long-overdue recognition of their dignity. Portugal and Spain may follow Greece into financial ruin, the volcanoes of Iceland are bankrupting the airline industry, Iran won’t give up its nuclear development program, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the conflict in the Middle East go on and on and on…

Not a major issue, no. But a ray of sunshine through the clouds is always welcome.

Parabéns, Portugal!

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