Portugal's Socialist government has drawn up a proposal that would make Portugal the sixth European country to allow gay marriage.
The law is almost certain to pass, as the center-left Socialist government has the support of all left-of-center parties, who together have a majority in Parliament. Right-of-center parties oppose the measure.
The proposal changes Portuguese law to remove references to marriage being between two people of different sexes, Cabinet Minister Pedro Silva Pereira told a news conference Thursday, adding the government will send its proposal to lawmakers for a debate, probably in January.
If approved by Parliament, the proposed law goes to Portugal's conservative President Anibal Cavaco Silva, who can ratify or veto it. A veto can be overturned by Parliament.
If there is no presidential veto, the first gay marriage ceremonies could take place in April _ a month before Pope Benedict XVI is due on a four-day official visit.
Gay marriage is currently permitted in five European countries _ Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Norway.
In Portugal, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, previous efforts to introduce gay marriage have run into strong resistance from religious groups and conservative lawmakers.
Pedro Corte-Real, head of the Portuguese delegation of ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, said the proposal was a vindication of his group's battle to end sexual discrimination.
"We have been fighting for this for years," he told The AP.
In July, the Constitutional Court upheld the country's ban on gay marriage, rejecting an appeal by two lesbians seeking to wed. It said the constitution, while granting equal rights, did not state that same-sex marriages must be permitted.