Gay marriages issue sparks row in Spain

January 6, 2004

Spanish Basque Socialist Party (PSOE) councillor (R) and PSOE councillor at the Lasarte Town Hall Inigo Alonso (L) kiss each other after getting married at the San Sebastian Town Hall on 3 September 2003. (Photo: AFP)
MADRID — A row is coming to the boil in Spain over gay couples' rights with the powerful Roman Catholic Church and the governing Popular Party ringing in 2004 by claiming that demands for greater social benefits for unmarried couples will ruin the social security system.

The issue is shaping up as a key part of the electoral battleground ahead of a general election scheduled for mid-March.

The head of the Church in Spain, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, fired the opening broadside in a Christmas address in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral, where in May he is set to preside over the marriage of heir to the throne Prince Felipe and former TV presenter Letizia Ortiz.

Varela decried plans by the opposition Socialist Party to grant equal rights to non-traditional couples, including single-parent families and gays, dubbing the latter form of union "incapable by nature of having children."

Such plans, the cardinal says, would have the "dramatic consequence" of presaging the "more than probable collapse of the social security system."

Left-wing opposition groups joined progressive Catholics and gay rights groups – including some Popular Party members – in condemning Varela's stance.

But no sooner had they done so than Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro stepped into the fray to note that giving the same rights to married and non-married couples would entail "extra public spending" which would impact negatively upon "economic growth and job creation."

Montoro also asserted that it could lead to a "society of unemployed."

Opposition reaction was swift and outraged.

"Imbecilic and intolerant machismo" was how the Socialists dubbed the minister's comment while the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuels (FELGT) accused the government of seeking to "promote an intolerant society" dictated by an "integrist" Church.

FELGT threatened to organise a campaign of "fiscal objection" -- in other words, withholding taxes -- a spokesman declaring that "if we are second class citizens we don't have to pay first class taxes."

A Christian gay and lesbian association said the cardinal had made himself look "ridiculous" in delivering a homily "full of lies", while the Popular Platform, a gay group within the Popular Party, is taking legal action against the prelate, judging his words tantamount to sexual discrimination.

The row over the rights of married, unmarried and gay couples exists on two levels in Spain with the national government opposed to reform, whereas several regional governments are inclined to be more liberal.

The northwestern region of Galicia recently amended its laws giving equal financial and social rights to married and unmarried couples.

Regional executives in the northern region of Aragon, along with nearby Navarra and the Basque country, have in recent weeks voted to allow adoption by homosexual couples.

Catalonia in the northeast and Andalucia in the deep south are meanwhile allowing gay couples to foster children.

The central governement in Madrid has managed to hold off applications to legalise same-sex marriages and adoption by same-sex couples by taking the case to the constitutional court.

On Wednesday, the court ruled that Basque moves to allow such moves went beyond the remit of the Basque regional parliament and that it was for the national parliament in Madrid alone to rule on the issue.

With Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party currently enjoying an absolute majority, Madrid has several times been able to ward off opposition attempts to authorise gay marriages in national parliament.

Aznar's party also rejected last month a move in parliament to pay widow pensions to unmarried partners of soldiers killed in action after the partners of four soldiers killed in an air crash in Turkey in May on their way home from Afghanistan brought a test case. –Sapa-AFP

The Spanish parliament has periodically tried to legalise same-sex unions, but no laws have been passed yet. However, autonomous regions such as the Basque, Navarre, Andalusia and Catolonia have been free to pass their own laws recognising same-sex unions. Catalonia, for instance, recognises same-sex unions, but not adoption.



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