A gay rights activist became Spain's first openly gay person in a high-profile political post Sunday when he was named ombudsman for Spain's Basque region. Inigo Lamarka, head of the Basque Association of Gays and Lesbians, hailed his appointment as a breakthrough. He said he was pleased his sexuality had not been a "handicap" to his appointment. "After an excessively long historical period, the historic moment has now come for homosexual people in the Basque Country and in democratic countries to put an end to exclusion, to almost flagrant discrimination," Lamarka added.
In Spain the Roman Catholic Church, which claims a majority following and speaks out against same-sex unions, coexists with a new socialist government that has pledged to legalize gay marriage. Pope John Paul II urged Spain's prime minister on Monday to respect ethical values rooted in his country's religious tradition, reaffirming his opposition to the new socialist government's pro-gay plans.