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Spain becomes third country to legalize ‘gay marriage’

MADRID (BP)–Spain’s Socialist-controlled Congress of Deputies legalized “gay marriage” by 187-147 vote June 30 despite opposition from the country’s Senate and hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics.

The measure makes Spain the third country, along with Belgium and the Netherlands, to legalize “same-sex marriage” nationwide. The Canadian House of Commons passed legislation June 28 that will legalize “gay marriage” pending almost certain approval by the nation’s Senate.

Spain’s “gay marriage” legislation, which also allows homosexual couples to adopt children and inherit each other’s property, is now law. Homosexuals can begin to marry as soon as the law is published in the official government registry, which will occur within two weeks at the latest, the Associated Press reported.

The country’s Senate, where conservatives hold the largest number of seats, rejected the “gay marriage” bill the week before it was approved by the 350-seat Congress of Deputies. But the Senate is merely an advisory body, and final say on legislation lies with the lower house.

Mariano Rajoy, leader of Spain’s conservative Popular Party, which opposed the law, accused Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of acting irresponsibly by forcing the law through parliament instead of seeking consensus on a less radical civil unions law, Reuters reported.

Zapatero “has caused an enormous division in Spanish society,” Rajoy said, adding that his party will consider an appeal to Spain’s constitutional court in an attempt to repeal the law.

The Roman Catholic Church, which exercised powerful influence on the government in past generations, joined the Popular Party in opposing “gay marriage.” Roman Catholics endorsed a June 18 rally in which several hundred thousand Spaniards, including some 20 bishops, marched in opposition to the bill. A Catholic group also presented lawmakers with a 600,000-signature petition opposing the legislation, BBC News reported.

In debate before the vote, Zapatero appealed to freedom and equality as a basis for lawmakers to legalize “gay marriage.”

“We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last,” he said. “After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality.”

The prime minister called the change in Spain’s legal code “a small change in wording that means immense change in the lives of thousands of citizens. We are not legislating, ladies and gentlemen, for remote unknown people. We are expanding opportunities for the happiness of our neighbors, our work colleagues, our friends, our relatives.”

Zapatero’s Socialist Party lacks a majority in the Congress of Deputies but gained support for the “same-sex marriage” law from small regional-based parties that tend to be his allies, AP reported.

The “gay marriage” legislation is one of the boldest initiatives of the liberal social agenda Zapatero has advocated since taking office in April 2004 after the terrorist bombing of commuter trains in Madrid. The Socialist agenda includes a measure passed June 29 allowing couples to divorce without having to state a reason for the split-up, as required under the old law. Zapatero also has advocated legislation loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and wants to make Spain’s abortion laws less restrictive, AP reported.

During the dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939-75, homosexuality and abortion were illegal. Since Franco’s death, however, Spain has adopted social views that are among the most liberal in Europe.

A May survey by the Spanish pollster Instituto Opina found that 62 percent of Spaniards support the government’s action on “gay marriage,” while 30 percent oppose it.

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