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Spain approves liberal gay marriage law

By wire services
Published July 1, 2005

MADRID - The Spanish Parliament gave final approval Thursday to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, making Spain only the second nation to eliminate all legal distinctions between same-sex and heterosexual unions, according to supporters of the bill.

The measure, passed by a vote of 187-147, establishes that couples will have the same rights, including the freedom to marry and to adopt children, regardless of gender.

"Today, Spanish society is responding to a group of people who have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, their dignity offended, their identity denied and their freedom restricted," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodiguez Zapatero told Parliament.

After the tally was announced, activists watching from the spectator section of the ornate chamber cried, cheered, hugged each other, waved to lawmakers and blew them kisses.

"This is a disgrace," shouted several members of the conservative opposition Popular Party, which vehemently opposed the bill. Those in favor stood and clapped.

"It is a historic day for the world's homosexuals. We have been fighting for many years," said Beatriz Gimeno, a longtime leader of the gay rights movement in Spain. "Now comes the hardest part, which is changing society's mentality." She blinked back tears as she hugged her partner, Boti Garcia.

Oscar-winning Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, who is gay, said 21st century families don't have to reflect the traditional Catholic model.

Spain is the fourth country to legalize gay marriage, after Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium.

But only Canada's law, which was extended nationwide by Parliament this week, contains language as liberal as Spain's, according to gay marriage advocates.

The Spanish measure simply adds one sentence to existing law: "Marriage will have the same requirements and results when the two people entering into the contract are of the same sex or of different sexes."

The laws in the Netherlands and Belgium, by contrast, create a separate category of rights for same-sex couples that fall short of full equality on issues like adoption, these advocates say.

"Spain is talking about total equality," said Kursad Kahramanoglu, the secretary general of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. "The only other place in the world where this has actually happened is Canada."

The Canadian House of Commons voted Tuesday on its measure to change the traditional definition of marriage, and once the Senate formally approves it, gay marriage will be legal throughout the nation.

In the United States, Massachusetts is the only state to recognize gay marriage. Vermont and Connecticut have approved same-sex civil unions.

Thursday's vote in Spain had been widely expected, since the bill had already been approved convincingly in a preliminary vote in April. The bill then went to the Senate, where it was rejected in a nonbinding vote, before going back to the lower house for Thursday's final approval.

Although it had no practical effect, the Senate vote indicated the sharp opposition to the bill that has emerged in Spanish society, particularly among religious conservatives.

Some two weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of people marched through downtown Madrid in protest against the bill, saying it was an assault on the institution of marriage.

The mayor of Valladolid, Francisco Javier Leon de la Riva, has said that he will not carry out the new law, and Catholic leaders have called on government officials to become conscientious objectors and to refuse to participate in any events involving the marriage of homosexual couples.

Shortly after the preliminary vote in April, the archbishop of Barcelona, Cardinal Ricard Maria Carles Gordo, compared government workers opposing the law but agreeing to carry it out to the Nazis at Auschwitz, who "believed that they had to obey the laws of the Nazi government before their own conscience."

After the vote, the Spanish Bishops Conference said, "Marriage, understood as the union of a man and a woman, is no longer provided for in our laws," referring both to the gay marriage law and a bill passed Wednesday making it easier for Spaniards to divorce.

Despite the intensity of the opposition, polls show that between 55 percent and 65 percent of Spaniards support gay marriage. Even many of those who oppose the bill passed Thursday say they agree with allowing same-sex couples to marry but feel they should not be able to adopt children.

The law will go into effect immediately after it is published in Parliament's official bulletin, which is expected to occur within a couple of days.

--Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:25:06]

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