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SPAIN: Gay Marriage Takes Root Despite Opposition

Tito Drago

MADRID, Jul 26 2005 (IPS) - The recent legalisation of same-sex marriage in Spain is taking root, in spite of continued opposition from conservative parties and the Catholic Church.

The new law, which grants the same rights to both homosexual and heterosexual married couples, entered into force on Jul. 4 under the government of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who had promised to legalise same-sex unions during his election campaign.

The first lesbian couple legally married in Spain is actually only half Spanish. Tani, a woman from Argentina, was joined in marriage with Verónica, who is from Spain, at a civil ceremony in Mollet del Valles, in the northeastern city of Barcelona, on Jul. 22.

The ceremony was performed by Judge Jorge Vergara, who decided that the Spanish law held precedence over the laws of Argentina, where same-sex marriage is not authorised.

Although civil unions between same-sex couples have been legalised in Buenos Aires and the southern Argentine province of Río Negro, they are not permitted nationwide, and do not entail the same range of rights as actual marriage.

Several days earlier, Emilio Menéndez and Carlos Baturín, who have been partners for 30 years, became the first gay couple to be joined in marriage in Spain at a town hall ceremony in Tres Cantos, located on the outskirts of Madrid.

Businessman José Macías, 41, who is planning his wedding with Félix Viana, after living together for ten years, said that they have chosen to legalise their union not only for love, but as a matter of convenience.

As a married couple, Macías and Viana will be able to file joint tax returns, and if one of them passes away, the other will automatically inherit his estate, without the need for a will.

The new legislation also grants same-sex married couples the right to adopt children, and establishes that if a same-sex married couple has children (either by adoption or through artificial insemination), child support payments will be mandatory in the case of divorce.

In the case of Tani and Verónica, marriage entailed yet another right previously enjoyed only by heterosexual couples: Tani will now be granted legal resident status in Spain for having married a Spanish citizen.

The legalisation of same-sex marriage has met with the approval of a clear majority of Spaniards, with public opinion polls showing that over 60 percent of those surveyed support the right of homosexual couples to be joined in matrimony.

But there are still some who vehemently oppose this new legislation. Judge Laura Alabau, who oversees the vital statistics registry office in the city of Denia, on the Mediterranean coast, has told the Attorney General’s Office that the new law is unconstitutional, and that same-sex marriage licences will not be issued under her jurisdiction.

There is an article in the Spanish constitution which states that "a man and a woman have the right to contract marriage with full legal equality," and this has been used by some jurists and the Catholic Church to argue that the recently adopted law violates the constitution.

The new law modifies the Spanish Civil Code, which established that "a man and a woman have the right to contract marriage in accordance with the provisions of this Code," by adding that "a marriage will have the same requirements and effects whether both parties are of the same or different gender."

The words husband and wife and father and mother were also replaced by spouses and parents, respectively.

The issue of the constitutionality of the law will now be decided by Spain’s Constitutional Court. While the legislation was passed by a majority in the Spanish parliament, it drew fire from the Council of State and the opposition right-wing Popular Party, and was condemned by the leadership of most religious denominations in Spain, particularly the Catholic Church.

José Ramón Samper, president of the gay and lesbian association DecideT, said that the arguments put forward by Judge Alabau are groundless, because constitutionality is a legal issue as opposed to an administrative one, and requests for a marriage licence are simply an administrative formality.

Bishop Ricardo Blázquez, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Spain, maintains that "a marriage can be more or less stable, religious or civil, fertile or not, but it must be the union of a man and a woman. Without this union, there cannot be a marriage."

Blázquez also condemned the new law for creating "immense moral confusion" in Spanish society.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) organisations responded to the bishop’s statements by submitting 1,800 requests for "apostasy", which entails not only relinquishing membership in the church, but also being removed from all church records. Roughly 1,500 similar requests were already submitted last year.

Emma Rodríguez, spokeswoman for the non-governmental organisation Europa Laica (Secular Europe), said that in officially cutting themselves off from the Catholic Church, these activists were refusing to remain complicit in its "homophobia, machismo, classism, misogyny and antiquated conservatism."

The Catholic hierarchy, however, regards church records as historic documents, registering events like baptisms, confirmations and marriages, which cannot be destroyed. The Church has announced that it will accept the requests and consult with each individual applicant, but it will not meet with representatives of their organisations.

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