Spain's Parliament may approve same-sex marriages early next year, justice minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said Wednesday. He spoke a day after lawmakers took a first step in that direction, approving a nonbinding resolution urging the Socialist government to amend Spain's civil code to permit gay marriage.
Lopez Aguilar said legislators will start reforming articles in the code as early as September and that gay marriage could become a reality early next year. "It's a challenge that this government wants to undertake, to remove a border of inequality," Lopez Aguilar said after meeting with representatives of gay and lesbian groups. "It is a fair cause that doesn't offend anyone."
If the law is approved, it will make Spain the third European country to recognize gay marriages after the Netherlands and Belgium. It is also legal in the U.S. state of Massachusetts.
Gay rights campaigners welcomed the preliminary vote in parliament's lower house. "Finally, 28 years after our constitution was approved after a long struggle, we see how our right to equality is being recognized," said Beatriz Gimeno, president of the National Federation of Gays and Lesbians.
Since taking office in April, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to institute deep changes on social issues after eight years of conservative rule. On the day he was confirmed as prime minister, he told parliament that he vowed to allow gay marriage and fight discrimination. This was followed days later with the appointment of a cabinet of eight men and eight women, including a female deputy prime minister.
The Socialists' first bill submitted to parliament calls for tougher penalties for violence against women.
The government also wants to ease Spain's strict law on abortion, give full legal status to common-law marriages, and adopt a more liberal policy on assisted reproduction. Pope John Paul II recently expressed concern about Zapatero's ideas, fearing they might weaken family values in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.