6.30.2005

Separation of Church & State Alive in Spain

Spain Defies Church To Legalise Gay Marriage

from Reuters

MADRID - Spain legalised same-sex marriages on Thursday, becoming only the fourth country to do so after Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands and dealing a blow to the Catholic Church in a traditional stronghold.

"Today Spanish society is giving an answer to a group of people who for years have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended...," Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told parliament.

Supporters jumped to their feet to celebrate in a crowded public gallery when the lower house of parliament passed the law, overriding a rejection in the upper house or Senate.

Outside, dozens of same-sex couples hugged and kissed, some of them in tears.

The law gives same-sex unions the same status as heterosexual ones, including adoption and inheritance rights.

The Socialists' liberal agenda is a major break with the past: Spain was ruled from 1939-1975 by Catholic nationalist dictator Francisco Franco, who banned homosexuality and divorce.

"I am remembering all those years, all the people who couldn't see this...all the young people who are going to live differently," rights activist Pepe Paz said outside parliament. The 38-year-old plans to marry in September.

The legislation, passed 187 to 147, is a setback to the Vatican. Pope Benedict has condemned gay marriage as an expression of anarchic freedom and his predecessor John Paul urged Spain to remember its Catholic roots.

Despite the church's opposition, a survey last year showed 70% of Spaniards supported legalising gay marriage.

After a boisterous debate, opposition Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy accused Zapatero of acting irresponsibly by pushing through a gay marriage law instead of seeking consensus on civil unions, which several European countries allow. The PP also condemned Zapatero for ignoring a massive protest against gay marriage in Madrid earlier this month. Organisers said 1.5 to 2 million showed up, including bishops and nuns, while the government said there were 166,000.

Spanish Roman Catholic bishops have commanded all Catholics to resist applying the same-sex marriage law.

Zapatero's liberal reforms, which include a law passed late on Wednesday to make divorce easier and changes to stem cell research rules, are popular among young people.

While some 90% of Spaniards call themselves Catholic, fewer than a fifth are practising.

Canada on Tuesday became the third country to legalise same-sex marriages. Belgium allowed for them in June 2003. The Netherlands allowed same sex-marriages in December 2000 although Dutch law had recognised registered partnerships since 1998.

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