Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

SPAIN: Gay Marriage Law for a ‘Decent Society’, Says Prime Minister

Alicia Fraerman

MADRID, Jun 30 2005 (IPS) - The legalisation of gay marriage in Spain will make it possible to build a decent country, "because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members," Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said Thursday.

The upper house of the Spanish parliament voted 187 to 147 to legalise homosexual marriage Thursday, and the new law will be promulgated Friday by the Council of Ministers.

Parliamentary opposition to the law came from the centre-right Popular Party (PP), the main opposition force, which had the support of the Catholic Church and the conservative Family Forum, which gathered 600,000 signatures of people opposed to the law and presented them to parliament Wednesday.

Spain has thus become the third country in the world to allow same-sex unions, after the Netherlands and Belgium. Canada looks set to become the fourth, because a law approved Tuesday is expected to go into effect in late July.

The new legislation will allow homosexual couples in Spain to adopt children, a right that is implicit in marriage, but has been explicitly excluded from legislation on same-sex civil unions in other countries, or incorporated in a limited fashion.

Zapatero, of the ruling socialist party (PSOE), said many other countries will soon adopt similar laws, moved by "two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality."

Beatriz Gimeno, the head of the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays and Transsexuals (FELGT), said it is time to move on "from the fight in the trenches to the one in the offices, to design programmes and projects aimed at eradicating homophobia in society."

It is not merely a question of achieving legislation that allows homosexuals to lead normal lives, but of eliminating stereotypes and discrimination in society – something that requires not only laws but education and awareness-raising as well, she added.

The PP ordered its members in parliament to respect party discipline and vote against the law. But several abstained from voting, and one, Celia Villalobos, even broke ranks and voted for the legislation, while publicly defending her position.

The PP mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, said the new legislation would be enforced in his city, and that there would not only be "no discrimination, but no differences in treatment of the different kinds of marriages either."

A member of the PP who preferred not to be named told IPS that one proof of that would be the marriage of Francisco Javier Gómez, the head of the group Gays and Lesbians of the PP, who wants Ruiz-Gallardón himself to officiate over his marriage ceremony, which is scheduled for this summer.

Madrid city councillor Pedro Zerolo, PSOE secretary of Social Movements and Non-Governmental Organisations, said that "never before has such a small legal reform entailed such a big social stride forward."

"Today we are all winners, today we have put an end to an intolerable centuries-old discrimination," he added.

Homosexuals were the victims of police and legal persecution during the 1939-1975 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, and even afterwards, until a law on "social danger and rehabilitation" was finally repealed in 1979.

One of the roughly 5,000 people imprisoned or thrown into psychiatric hospitals under that law said that when he was a young man, his mother confided to a nun that her son was gay, asking her advice on how to deal with the situation. But the nun reported him to the police, and he spent three years in prison as a result.

Although persecution is a thing of the past, homophobia and discrimination are still widespread, as shown by the signatures handed into parliament this week.

Carlos Biendicho, president of the organisation Gay Platform, said "we must fight now to eradicate homophobia," which he called a "blot on society."

World-renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar praised the new law, which he said reflected changes in society.

The Vatican sent out a clear message against the law. Most of the population of Spain is Roman Catholic.

Cardinal Renato Martino, the chairman of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the passage of the law was "an aberration of the principles of nature," and that the decision "does not reflect the true will of the Spanish people."

In response, the political parties and civil society organisations that back the law pointed out that in a democratic country like Spain, the will of the citizens is expressed through parliament, which freely debated and voted on the new legislation.

Zapatero expressed his deep respect for those who are opposed to gay marriage, and called on those who support the new law to show the same respect. The prime minister praised the courage shown by the country’s homosexuals, and asked them "to express your joy with respect for people of all beliefs."

Organisations representing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community called a rally Saturday in the Puerta del Sol plaza in downtown Madrid, where the group Triángulo, which groups gays and lesbians, celebrated Thursday with champagne and shouts of joy.

Republish | | Print |

the rise of the roman empire polybius