Spain's Socialist government on Friday approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriages, putting this predominantly Roman Catholic country on course to become only the third country to recognize gay marriages nationwide. The bill was approved at a cabinet meeting and is expected to be presented to parliament in February for debate.
"The right to marry is a right for everyone, without distinction. It cannot be understood as a privilege," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a press conference after the cabinet meeting. "The recognition of homosexuals' rights eradicates an unjustified discrimination."
Under the bill gays and lesbians will be allowed to adopt children, and members of same-sex couples will be able to inherit from one another as well as receive retirement benefits from their working spouses in the same way that married heterosexuals do now.
Since taking office in April, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to institute major changes on social issues after eight years of conservative rule. On the day he was confirmed as prime minister, he vowed to parliament to allow same-sex marriage and fight discrimination against gays. Zapatero runs a minority government but is generally supported by two small leftist parties. Gays may be able to start marrying as soon as next year.
Gay advocacy groups are supportive of the new legislation, but the influential Catholic Church adamantly objects. A spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference claimed some months ago that allowing gay marriage would be like releasing a virus into Spanish society. If parliament passes the legislation, Spain would join Belgium and the Netherlands in legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Some provinces of Canada and the U.S. state of Massachusetts also allow same-sex marriage.
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. Some other countries also have civil union laws, including New Zealand, whose parliament approved civil unions earlier this year.