Gay marriages issue sparks row in Spain
January 6, 2004
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
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)
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
Montoro also asserted that it could lead to a "society of
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
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
The northwestern region of Galicia recently amended its laws
giving equal financial and social rights to married and unmarried
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
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
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
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.