Spain will legalize same-sex marriages and grant equal rights to gay couples, incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Thursday. The move is likely to stir controversy in one of Europe's most Catholic countries in light of the Vatican's condemnation of same-sex unions; homosexuality was banned during the reign of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Spain's Catholic bishops have already spoken out strongly against the adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples. "The moment has finally arrived to end once and for all the intolerable discrimination which many Spaniards suffer because of their sexual preferences," Zapatero told parliament during a debate that will end with a vote to confirm him in office. "Homosexuals and transsexuals deserve the same public consideration as heterosexuals. As a result we will modify the Civil Code to recognize their equal right to marriage with the resulting effects over inheritance, labor rights, and social security protection."
Nine other European Union countries already have some provision for recognizing those in committed same-sex relationships. Last month the United Kingdom said it would give legal recognition to gay partnerships.
Homosexuality was banned during Franco's 1939-1975 dictatorship. Spain's liberal 1978 constitution outlawed sexual discrimination, and homosexuality was legalized shortly afterward. Zapatero, whose Socialist Party swept to a surprise victory in general elections last month just three days after train bombings that killed 191 people, made legalizing unions for same-sex couples one of his campaign pledges.