This morning Spain followed the example set by its one-time colonies in the Low Countries, legalising gay marriage.

Predictably, the post-Francoist Popular Party and the Roman Catholic hierarchy are not amused. One hopes they will take some comfort in the thought that the new law will not actually require anybody to marry a person of the same sex.

And perhaps they might reflect on this. There are many people who dislike cultural conservatism and Roman Catholic teachings, sometimes to the point of thinking these things morally wrong. And that, is, of course, their good right. It is not their good right, though, to marginalise cultural conservatives or Roman Catholics, still less to abridge their liberties. Well, then: sauce; goose; gander.

23 thoughts on “?Enhorabuena!

  1. This is very good news. The Church, while at its best can serve as a moral guide, does not have a monopoly on morality and values. The sooner homosexuality becomes a non-issue the better.

    In fact, allowing gays to marry will show people that they have the same kind of relationships, and obligations and troubles, as everybody else. If the conservatives played their cards right, they could actually have made a case that gay marriage can in fact reinforce family values by extending marital rights and obligations to everybody in society.

    Personally, I do not like the term gay ‘marriage’ very much because the word ‘marriage’ has long-standing religious connotations. Yet I cheer the official recognition of gay relationships. Gays should no longer be outlaws in their own societies.

  2. One could argue that gay couples should be allowed to “marry” but why on earth give homosexuals the right to adopt children. In the real world, not the social workers world, these children will face an extra obstacle when growing up. It?s a sad day indeed!

  3. Guy,

    there are in fact some conservatives in the USA who make precisely that argument (e.g., Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Rauch). These two gentlemen happen to be gay conservatives (well, Rauch might be more accurately described as a gay centrist with certain conservative leanings), and thus perhaps readier to make this point than their hetero soulmates.

    I take your point about ‘marriage’ having strong religious connotations. However. Marriage is also a particular kind of civil contract. Its meaning in this sense is important to everybody. Its meaning in the context of a particular religion is important only to adherents of that religion, indeed is meaningless to others. The civilian legal systems of continental Europe are, to my mind, better at drawing this distinction than are those of the Anglo-American world. In Germany, for example (as in, so far as I know, many other continental countries), there are up to two different weddings. At minimum, spouses must marry civilly, before an official at the town hall. And, when they’ve done so, they are in the eyes of the state and the law married, full stop. If they wish to, they may then proceed to marry according to the rites of their religion before the appropriate priest/minister/rabbi/toadstool-eating shaman. It might be that they are married in the eyes of God (or Whomever) only after this second step, and this might be vitally important to the pair (and, presumably, to God/Whomever); but it is, and should be, of no concern to the state.

    Perhaps it is easier for people living in this sort of system to separate the two spheres than it is for those in countries where a clergyperson acts, in effect, as the delegate of the state and a single wedding satisfies both God and Man. Gay people should not be excluded from the marriage contract, as the state understands the term. But a religious denomination that disapproves of gay marriage should remain free to deny a same-sex pair access to its altars. People are, alas, free to be bigots. If they choose to be so, that is their misfortune. So long as the state does not mirror their bigotry in its civil law, it need not be the misfortune of society as a whole.

  4. “But a religious denomination that disapproves of gay marriage should remain free to deny a same-sex pair access to its altars.”

    Absolutely. And I agree with the rest of your comment as well. In Belgium and The Netherlands there is also this distinction between “marrying at the townhouse” and “marrying before the Church”, so I know what you mean.

    It is just that the word “marriage”, as in “sanctity of marriage” for instance, has been used by the Church so much in its campaigns against gay marriage that it, for me at least, has become somewhat ‘tainted’.

    Peter, the adoption of children is indeed more complex and I am also somewhat conservative there. I prefer a child to have a mummy and a daddy. But there are arguments for gay adoptive rights.

    If a child grows up without either a mummy or a daddy and the remaining parent has a gay partner who shares both the burden and the delight of caring for the child, then I think the gay partner deserves parental rights. For instance. Orphans could be another example.

    For an interesting discussion on this topic, go here:


    I am still ambivalent and think it comes down to the individual couples involved.

  5. Peter,

    you ask why a gay couple should be allowed to adopt children. As I am not a social worker I am perhaps unqualified to answer, but I should say, for the same reasons that (and subject to the same standards under which) straight couples are allowed to adopt.

    When I lived in Brooklyn, my next-door neighbours were a lesbian couple with a daughter. Now you might very well be right that their daughter will face an ‘extra obstacle’ when growing up; the obstacle in question being the bigotry of some other people. But I suspect that growing up in a stable and loving home — a blessing that not every child with parents of differing sexes enjoys — will more than compensate her for this disadvantage.

  6. “the obstacle in question being the bigotry of some other people”

    That is one reason why I am still somewhat ambivalent, possibly because I have no children of my own and because I know what society can do to people who are ‘different’. Personal sensitivity.

  7. BTW, many social workers do live in the real world. Possibly even more so than not-social workers. I know some of them can be quite militant, even over-zealous, but in general I have a great respect for social workers and their work.

  8. “post-Francoist Popular Party and the Roman Catholic hierarchy are not amused”

    I think it’s important to be clear here, the PP is split on this. The atmosphere in Spain is fairly tolerant on this issue. The opposition really comes from Opus Dei. There is a battle royal going on inside the PP about this, with Opus trying to drag the Party as far to the right as possible, and those who would like to get back into government someday trying to tug back towards the centre. They just lost Galicia remember, so I would expect the reality principle to exert itself soon.

    The Church is also badly split, basically between those who favour ‘rather few but welcome’ and those who would like the Church to get back into contact with the majority of its members.

    “but why on earth give homosexuals the right to adopt children”

    This issue is being argued in a way which is again rather out of touch with reality. There are so few children left for adoption in European societies and gays are well down the queue, so in practice the issue hardly arises. Most adoption in Spain is international adoption, and countries like China, where there is a steady stream of children for adoption, don’t look especially well on gays.

    The issue of children normally arises when a gay couple is formed and one of the parties already has children. One of the effects of repressing homosexuality is that many gays (certainly in Spain) have been living in a conventional marriage as a cover up, (or again are bi-sexual). Children arrrive. When these marriages fail one of the partners has the children. If this partner then forms a same sex couple, and eg dies at some stage, the partner, who is an effective parent, had no rights under the old law, and the child could be taken into care. Or again lesbian couples have children by assisted fertility, the question is to do with the legal rights of the partner in the event of something bad happening. The law is about this. Most of the rest is emotive nonesense.

  9. “But a religious denomination that disapproves of gay marriage should remain free to deny a same-sex pair access to its altars.”

    This is obviously true. Everybody should have the maximum freedom of association. But there is a peculiar detail, the Church in Spain has long been denying validity to civil marriages (again think of the recent case in the UK of Charles), so I don’t see what the issue is with something which doesn’t have validity in the eyes of God. Of course the real religious issue is that of gay Christians having the right to be accepted in wedlock in their own congregations, but that is not as matter for civil law.

    Annulment, on the other hand, still is an issue here. If you are rich and famous (Rocia Jurado, or her daughter Rociito) you can get your marriage annulled and remarry (hilariously in the case of flamenco star Jurado to a gay bullfighter: this is known as picaresque), but if you are poor and without influence a common-or-garden divorce isn’t recognised, and you have to have a civil wedding, which is the real reason for the interest in ‘matrimony’ since this civil ceremony really is what governs the stable relations of the majority of the faithful these days.

    Of course the Catholic Church will have to get rid of the assymmetries with women before gays are going to have any kind of hope. If heaven really exists, one would hope it would be a bit better on this kind of thing.

  10. “the post-Francoist Popular Party”

    Only from an enormeous lack of knowledge of Spanish history and society can this sentence be written. Popular Party is no post Francoist, but a modern libertarian-conservative party supported by more than 10 million people. Trying to paint the oppositon to Gay marriage as a struggle between “moderns” and “reactionaries” is just a demonstration of – sorry for the expression – ignorance of the Spanish situation.

    “As I am not a social worker I am perhaps unqualified to answer”

    Thus, maybe you should not go on talking so gaily about what you’re not qualified to talk about. Many serious studies on children psicology (I would give links if needed) demonstrate that an homosexual environment is not a proper one for education. Many people forget that adoption is a childrens’, not a parents’ Right.

    Nobody in Spain is willing to ban homosexuality; everybody can take any sexual option an live as they want. Nobody, nor the Church, nor ideed the Popular Party, have any kind of doubt about that. But calling “marriage” the union between two men or two wimen (or one man and six wimen, or a whole village alltogether) is just nonsense.

    So, please, don’t you give us the “Enhorabuena”: it is not a happy day for common sense and legality in Spain today.

    (English is not my mother tongue so excuse me please for the mistakes).

  11. It is easy for a lesbian couple to get pregnant so it is not like the children have to be from a previous partnership.

  12. Many serious studies on children psicology (I would give links if needed) demonstrate that an homosexual environment is not a proper one for education.

    Please do. I look forward to seeing the list of peer-reviewed publications you’ll provide, or not.

  13. “(English is not my mother tongue so excuse me please for the mistakes).”

    This isn’t an issue. Welcome anyway, or bienvenida.

    “ignorance of the Spanish situation”.

    This wouldn’t be my case, I have lived in Barcelona for years, and more or less think of myself as Britanico-Catalan these days.

    Now what you say about the PP is, in part true. People like Ruiz Galardon, Piqu?, even probably Rajoy are modern, reasonably moderate, interested in reforming and building a ‘deregulated’ Spain. I have a fair amount of respect for these politicians. But then there is the other part, Esperanza Aquirre (goddess of wrath) and Angel Acebes, and Trillo (who is still being persued by the families of the victims of the military air crash whose bodies he couldn’t be bothered to have identified correctly before burying them any old how). And of course Aznar’s wife. This group are more or less a sect (as I said, opus is there somewhere). So sect-like are they that they continue to claim that Eta was in some significant way implicated in 11 March.

    Far from being modern this group is deeply bigotted. They are violently anti-Catalan for a start, and don’t even want to let us have back a load of documents stored in Salamanca which were carried off by the Franco administration as ‘war booty’. They are so crazy they even organised a demonstration about this in Salamanca a few weeks back. They are fiercely nationalist and oppose tooth and nail Zapatero’s attempts to build a modern pluri-national Spanish state. So unreformed Franco people they aren’t, deeply disturbing they are.

  14. Jan Van Eyck?s The betrothal of the Arnolfini (1434) shows the traditional European marriage. A man would give his troth to a woman in the presence of two witnesses. Neither secular nor ecclesiastical powers played a part in this union.
    Diarmaid MacCulloch in his recent popular history of the Reformation argues that our modern notion of marriage is really a child of the Reformation (and nothing to do with what conservatives call “Civilization”). In the late Middle Ages the Church made marriage a sacrament (and the relationship was therefore sanctified not just as a human bond but as a manifestation of the natural and moral order) but it took until the Reformation for this to be broadly accepted and for marriage with Church approval to become common. Similarly secular powers did not legislate on matters of sexual morality until the Reformation. It was not until the reign of Henry VIII that buggery was outlawed in England. MacCulloch suggests that the pious regulation of sexuality and the codification of marriage is the result of the religious conflicts over the primacy of Church power. My own feeling is that romantic love and even social partnership has replaced the idea of marriage as a manifestation of God?s order for most Westerners.

  15. Freelance,

    I should never dream of mocking a non-native speaker’s little mistakes of English usage (and your English, though it could be improved a bit, is more than sufficient to communicate your ideas).

    It’s those ideas that are the problem.

    I’ll start with a small point. My remark about not being a social worker and hence unqualified to comment was a nose-thumbing at Peter Sierra’s comment above. The irony might have gone missing as you mentally translated into Spanish.

    On your first substantive complaint, note carefully the prefix ‘post-‘ that comes before ‘Francoist’ in my description of the PP. I would never accuse PP, as a party, of being anti-democratic. And I am well aware that (as Edward points out above) there is more than one stream of thought within the party. Nevertheless, PP has roots; and those roots are hardly in the soil of the Republic. And, to the extent that old franquistas sought a political home in a contemporary mainstream party, that party is likelier to be PP than PSOE, wouldn’t you say? When I first visited Spain, the Generalissimo had already departed to his eternal reward; but only fairly recently. A good many of the acquaintances I made were hangers-on of the Fuerza Nueva, whose sympathies for Franco were rather more clear-cut; a good many of those acquaintances are now in PP. You’d be correct to chide me if I had labelled PP Francoist rather than post-Francoist; but I did not.

    I’d agree with you that PP are conservative. It’s a rather odd ‘libertarian’ party, though, that would oppose gay marriage.

    And as for that:

    calling “marriage” the union between two men or two wimen (or one man and six wimen, or a whole village alltogether) is just nonsense.

    Calling any of those things ‘marriage’ is nonsense if the laws of the land define marriage solely as between one man and one woman. And, if we are talking about marriage as a civil institution of the state, that is the only basis on which they are nonsensical. Islamic law allows a man up to four wives. Marriage between a man and four women is hardly nonsense in an Islamic state. Netherlands, Belgian and now Spanish law have ceased to define marriage as between one man and one woman. In those countries, two men or two women exchanging vows before a registry offical is no longer nonsense; it is a marriage.

    It might be that you do not like this new definition, or even that you think it gravely wrong. But your dislikes and thoughts do not make these marriages a nonsense; the law once made them a nonsense, and has now ceased to do so.

    Now, the RC church and some other denominations dislike same-sex marriage. Indeed, they may think that such a thing, by definition, cannot be a ‘marriage’. In the context of their own religious teachings, they may define marriage anyway they like, and if they like to describe it as solely between two persons of opposite sex, then (by these religious standrs) a gay marriage is no marriage at all, even if the state says that it is. And that’s fine. The state defines what marriage means for purposes of state law; the church defines what marriage means in the eyes of its God. A problem arises only when the church attempts to force its definition into the state’s laws. (Or vice versa; but that is not what is happening in the case of Spain.)

    So, please, don’t you give us the “Enhorabuena”: it is not a happy day for common sense and legality in Spain today.

    Whether or not you agree, it is indeed a happy day for common sense and legality, not to mention liberty and justice, in Spain. Sure, there are Spaniards who begrudge a minority of their countrymen enjoying the same rights and freedoms as the majority. It’s sad they feel this way. But a hearty ‘?Enhorabuena!’ is nevertheless very much in order for the country as a whole for leaving that sort of Spaniard behind.

  16. I can already predict how this will gay marriage thingey will pan out. The same way things went in the Netherlands. The first 2-3 years we will see a spike of gay marriages and just as suddenly it will slow down to a trickle. Which makes me wonder just how many gays have a “romantic” ideal of marriage.

  17. A question from an ignorant American: what are marriage reciprocity rules in the EU. That is, are member states expected (required?) to recognize marriages performed in other member states? So, what would happen if a Dutch or Beligian or Spanish gay, married couple moved to France? (Or similar situations.)

  18. “what are marriage reciprocity rules in the EU.”

    I’m no legal eagle (I’m sure Mrs T will do this better than I can) but I assume that it is the same as the relation between states in the US: the union would not be recognised in law where there is no provision so doing. European law is not harmonised. Even law relating to economic activity is far from uniform. Clearly with issues like this what happens in one nation state may influence events in another in the future but that is all.

    This may complicate issues like holding property jointly in another member state with strict inheritance rules.

    On another issue, the PP and Franco, the issue is complicated. I fully accept that Mrs T is saying post-Francoist, not Francoist. I wouldn’t go down that road personally.

    There are a number of important issues here. Perhaps the appropriate starting point would be a dispute which surrounded the British Labour Party in the 1980’s concerning the organised participation of the Trotskyist ‘militant tendency’ and entrism. The extreme right in Spain does effectively practice entrism in the PP, as does opus dei. Really there are two parties there. The important issue is whether the forcing of a split in the PP would be in the interests of democracy. What you could have is a Le Pen type party with some significant support in the ‘deep interior’ of Spain. There would also be a difficulty about having a credible opposition party with the PP rump that would be left. I’m not sure this is really in anyone’s interest. It may be better to leave the work of containing these people to the inner machinery of the PP itself.

    I think I am right in saying that the principle architect of this arrangement – of fusing together a right party that would have serious democratic possibilities of government – was Manuel Fraga, the guy who just lost the elections in Galicia. I know I keep mentioning these elections, but I think they are deeply significant. Galicia is one of the most traditional and conservative areas of Spain. Voting took place on the day of the big anti gay marriage demonstration in Madrid, yet the people of Galicia voted against the PP. They did not oppose gay marriage in the way that eg US voters did in some traditional areas by voting for Bush. I think this is fantastic (and please note I am *not* a PSOE supporter, not at all).

    Spain is a Parliamentary democracy, some people in the PP are inclined to forget that sometimes with their discovery of the attractions of extra parliamentary activity (probably it is the entrists who are pushing all this). The case of gay marriage is not the case of the Iraq war, although I suspect a lot of the PP strategy is an attempt to play tit-for-tat on this.

    Now a word about Aznar. Personally I can’t stand the man, but…..

    I would point out one speech which for me was very important. This was the one delivered in a press conference on the morning of 11 March 2004. At that time Aznar (and I myself) believed the bombing had been the work of ETA. Given the scale of the tragedy you could have expected anything, but what Aznar gave was not a rant, but a reasoned plea to continue to fight ‘the terrorist band’ within the bounds of democracy. Not to let the terrorists put our democracy at risk. And rhetoric and reality have been, more or less, in harmony here.

    So what I am saying, is that Aznar, much as I dislike him, was not a secret Francoist, but someone who believed in democracy and the rule of law, and in a way it was he who carried the PP successfully from the post-francoist origins (there are photos of Aznar himself wearing the blue shirt as a young man) to the more modern party it is today.

    Since losing the vote on March 14 things have changed. I think he took the whole thing personally, and that the turn of events unhinged that fragile grip that reason had ever exerted on his mind. (And I think there are shades of what happened to another Mrs T here, Mrs T).

  19. “In the real world, not the social workers world, these children will face an extra obstacle when growing up.”

    Peter, I don’t know if you’re still around at this stage, but I think it is important to stress that in European Law generally it is the interest of the child that is paramount, so any concerns about obstacles and ‘role confusions’ would be argued out in that context. This is about a coherent framework of law, and gay adopters, just like hetero ones would have to meet the normal criteria of parenthood.

    You’re not surely suggesting that if Elton John or Pedro Amodovar (to name but two) adopted a child, that this child would be only be faced with extra obstacles.

    Those who can read Spanish may find this interesting on the departure of Fraga, and its potential impact on the PP. It was Fraga who accepted the outcome of the elections, renounced Trillo’s attempts to challenge the vote, and saved Galicia and Spanish politics from the ‘Florida turn’. With Fraga gone, and an ‘illuminated’ Aznar orchestrating in the backround anything, literally anything, can happen next inside the PP.

  20. The inevitable question, to my mind at least, is: who’s next? I can’t think of a single European country where (a) there isn’t already some sort of legal recognition of same-sex unions (e.g. the Nordic countries and France); and (b) the political conditions are right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spain were the last country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, at least for a while.

  21. @Edward: “There are so few children left for adoption in European societies and gays are well down the queue, so in practice the issue hardly arises.”

    Edward, you forget one important category here, namely gay or lesbian couples where one of the partners already has children – either from a previous heterosexual relationship or in any other way. In most countries, including, to this day, the Netherlands and Belgium, it is extremely difficult, or even impossible, for the other partner to obtain parenthood over the child – including the rights *and* obligations that come with it. Should something happen to the biological parent, the remaining partner and the child have no legal right whatsoever to continue as a family.

    So, family values? With all their moral talk, Opus Dei and their supporters just obstruct family values and favour tearing families apart. Hypocritical bigots…

    (Those who read Dutch could visit this website of a Belgian campaign in favour of gay adoption rights)

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