Spain's cabinet proposed legislation Friday that would allow same-sex couples to marry and gays to adopt children, pressing ahead with its liberal agenda despite vociferous opposition from the influential Roman Catholic Church. Parliament was expected to debate the issue and adopt the measure in the next
The Socialist government's proposed legislation "removes a centuries-old barrier" to equal treatment under the law, justice minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said.
But the Roman Catholic Church, already upset by Socialist plans to make it easier for couples to divorce, curtail religious instruction in public schools, and possibly reduce state subsidies to the church, has reacted with outrage. "If this legislation goes ahead, we would be abandoning the legal and human
wisdom of all humanity," the Spanish Bishops Conference said on its Web site. Insisting that marriage "is essentially a heterosexual institution," the conference said that "the history of the world confirms that no society has given homosexual relations the legal recognition of the institution of marriage."
Although the church's views in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation of 40 million carry great weight, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero personally endorsed the proposed law.
Gay rights groups also welcomed the plan, under which couples would be able to inherit from one another and receive retirement benefits from their working spouses in the same way that heterosexual married couples do now. "This will help normalize homosexuality in society, although a lot of work remains," said Gwenael Le Moing, president of the Christian Association of Gays and Lesbians. "Each day the church is more alone in its discriminatory postures."
Responding to criticism on the adoption issue by church leaders, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega insisted that adoptions should not be based on the parents' sexual orientation.
"There is no proof that homosexual parents bring up their children badly," she said.
Her comments were welcomed by gay rights groups. "A child adopted by a homosexual couple is a child who is wanted, a child who is loved," said Carlos Alberto Biendicho, president of the Popular Gay Platform.
Although Zapatero's party holds 164 seats in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies--12 short of a majority--the Socialists are supported by several smaller parties. A simple majority is enough to pass the legislation. "The United Left has shown from the first moment its total support," said parliamentary deputy Isaura Navarro.
If the legislation is passed as expected, Spain will join Belgium and the Netherlands, which already have legalized gay marriages. Sweden and Denmark have civil union laws for same-sex couples, which fall
short of legalizing gay marriage. However, in both countries the union can be blessed by the Lutheran Church, the state religion in Denmark and the dominant one in Sweden.