Portugal's Constitutional Court has upheld the constitutionality of a gay marriage ban, the AP reported.

The court rejected an appeal filed by a lesbian couple who wish to wed but are unable because Portugal's constitution defines marriage as a heterosexual union.

The women, Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao, were denied a marriage license in 2006.

The court ruled 3-2 against the women, saying the constitution does not say gay marriage must be permitted. Portugal's constitution does outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, however.

Paixao called the ruling “a victory” because the decision was split.

“It shows there is a change coming,” Paixao told the AP. “Bit by bit people will come around” to accept gay marriage.

The Constitutional Court is the final arbiter of constitutional issues in the country. The women said they will appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights. Russian activists have also filed gay marriage challenges in the court.

Despite the setback, gay marriage in the mostly Roman Catholic country appears to be gaining traction. Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who heads the Socialist Party, has pledged to introduce a gay marriage bill if re-elected in September's general election, despite strong opposition from the church.

Pope Benedict is vehemently opposed to granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

Gay unions are legally recognized by the Portuguese government, which offers gay and lesbian couples a basic set of legal rights.

Neighboring Spain legalized gay marriage in 2005. Since then, the Vatican has called for the government's ouster.