|Queering ‘the family’? Fifteen years of LGBT activism in Portugal|
|The first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations in Portugal emerged in the early 1990s. It was after 1995 that these organizations became a social movement, with recognizable regular intervention in the public sphere and a vast array of social, legal and political demands.
After fifteen years of LGBT activism, socio-legal outcomes are more and more visible. Some of the changes include same-sex de facto unions (2001), sexual orientation amongst the grounds for prohibiting discrimination in the Constitution (2004), and an anti-hate crime law (2006). Those impacts, in turn, have operated several changes in the social movement which, as I explain, offers an example of syncretic frames of activism particularly visible in the sphere of family-related claims.
According to the Eurobarometer (2003), 93% of Portuguese citizens say ‘the family’ is the most important aspect of their lives. But defining what a family is or what it is not is a difficult task. The Portuguese Civil Code, under Family Law, states that there are four juridical sources of family relationships – marriage, kinship, affinity and adoption (Article 1576). Each of these sources of family relationships is influenced by the premise of heterosexuality (Butler, 2002). In the Portuguese context, as this paper will highlight, this has been a central field of contestation on the part of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activism, with impact on “law’s families” (Diduck, 2003) or how LGBT relational claims – i.e., those related to the recognition of relationships and parenthood – contribute to widening the legal understanding of ‘the family’.
In this paper I explore the ways in which legal definitions of ‘the family’ in Portuguese law and social policy have been object of dispute by the LGBT movement over the years. After discussing the heteronormative value-discourse of ‘the family’ as particularly important in Portuguese legal and political texts, I argue that LGBT rights face a situation of ‘normative ambiguity’ (Krieger, 2003) – on the one hand, the Portuguese Constitution provides protection from (individual) discrimination; on the other hand, specific laws mirror the heteronormative value-discourses of the lawmaker, preserving the law as a site of (relational) discrimination. This opposition is counterbalanced by a recent shift. The following section of the paper explores signs of socio-legal change and examines the underlying reasons for them, placing emphasis on activists’ proactive engagement with political parties and the media in recent years. Finally, I discuss whether achievements in the field of LGBT relational claims contribute to (un)queer collective action. I question the split between radical and institutional activism, in order to suggest the notion of syncretic activism as a political ‘in-between’ based on historical specificities, shared targets and a multilayered agenda.