Portugal is the sixth country in Europe to legalise gay marriage after its president approved legislation.

The Catholic country’s parliament passed a bill allowing gay couples to wed in January and it was ratified by President Anibal Cavaco Silva yesterday.

The law was passed just three days after Pope Benedict XVI finished a visit to Portugal. He had warned his followers that allowing gay marriage was a “dangerous threat to the common good”.

The new legislation removes any references to gender in the country’s marriage laws. However, it does not allow gay couples to adopt children.

Although centre-right parties opposed the change, all left-wing parties supported it.

Mr Silva said in a televised address he regretted the fact that political parties had been unable to reach a compromise on the issue.

He said he did not veto the law, as the country has other pressing issue such as unemployment and debt to deal with and parliament has the power to override him.

He said: “I feel I should not contribute to a pointless extension of this debate, which would only serve to deepen the divisions between the Portuguese and divert the attention of politicians away from the grave problems affecting us.”

Mr Silva would not answer questions on his own views but added he was setting aside his “personal convictions”.

Five other European countries allow gay marriage: Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Some others allow civil partnerships. In the UK, these grant all the rights of marriage although some argue that “separate but equal” is not good enough. Straight couples cannot have a civil partnership.

France has PACS, or pacte civil de solidarité, which are open to both straight and gay couples.