A generation ago,
traditional families were sacred in Spain. Gen.
Francisco Franco liked them big and Catholic, and he gave
hefty cash prizes to parents with the largest broods.
These days, a
civics course in Spain's public schools teaches that modern
families can be quite different: single parents with kids,
or same-sex couples raising adopted children.
This and a host
of other social reforms have given traditionally Catholic
Spain a striking new look. And while the clergy is fighting
the changes, the general public seems to be taking
them in its stride.
Spain is one of
the few countries that grant full legal status to
same-sex couples, including adoption rights. Prime Minister
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose
Socialist government enacted many of the changes, also
engineered a law granting financial aid to families caring
for handicapped or elderly relatives, amnestied 600,000
undocumented aliens, and created special courts to
prosecute spousal violence.
Half the members
of Zapatero's cabinet and half the Socialist candidates
running for legislative seats in the March 9 election are
All this is in
stunning contrast to the conservative society forged in
Franco's dictatorship and is seen by political scientist
Ramon Cotarelo as a reaction to having spent nearly
four decades feeling like the continent's repressed,
to come across as progressive. They think that this way
they remedy the inferiority complex they have with respect
to the rest of Europe,'' said Cotarelo, who teaches at
Complutense University of Madrid.
Opina poll published the day after the gay marriage law
passed in 2005 showed 62% in favor and 30% against.
Only a few
thousand gay couples in this nation of 45 million have
married, but the Catholic Church is fighting back.
church-convened rally December 30 in Madrid to plug
traditional family values, bishop after bishop stood
up to denounce Zapatero. A crowd estimated to be
at least 150,000 roared in approval when Pope
Benedict XVI appeared live on giant TV screens from Rome and
said marriage is the unbreakable union of man and
The archbishop of
Valencia, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco Vicente, said
gay marriage and streamlined procedures for divorce were
undermining Spain's families and social fabric.
''Along this path
we are headed toward the dissolution of democracy,'' he
warned the crowd.
Zapatero hit back
by accusing the church of trying to impose its view on
a people he described as perfectly comfortable with gay
cardinal may say, the family, understood in a broad
sense, is in very good health,'' Zapatero told a campaign
Under Franco the
church was powerful and close to the government.
Franco's death in 1975 cost the clergy a source of support,
and these days only a small proportion of the 80% of
Spaniards who call themselves Catholic attend church
democratic society that has gradually involved since
Franco died in 1975 shows striking tolerance of
homosexuality. In a media campaign last year to fight
AIDS by encouraging gay men to use condoms, one of the
participants was Fernando Grande-Marlaska, a prominent judge
at Spain's main terrorism court, who is gay.
One sign that
society is at ease with gay rights is that the issue is not
much of an issue in next month's election. Cotarelo said the
changes have probably not angered many moderate
conservatives, a key consideration in a race where
centrist votes are crucial.
alongside worries about renewed Basque separatist violence,
it's the economy, estupido -- inflation above
4%, skyrocketing interest rates on mortgages, and a
general sense that one of Europe's top-tier economies
These are the
issues that are giving Zapatero a tough run for a second
term. The Socialists and the conservative Popular Party,
which Zapatero unseated in 2004, are running neck and
neck in opinion polls.
The area in which
Zapatero decisively outpolls his Popular Party
challenger, Mariano Rajoy, is social reform, and Zapatero
capitalizes on it.
When he called
the vote in mid January, he looked back on his four years
in power and his promise to deliver socially sensitive
governance. ''I kept my word,'' he said. (AP)