Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

You and Me against the World: Spain Is Just One of a Half Dozen Countries Worldwide That Have Made Crucial Strides toward Marriage Rights-Or at Least Civil Union Style Protections-During the Past Year

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

You and Me against the World: Spain Is Just One of a Half Dozen Countries Worldwide That Have Made Crucial Strides toward Marriage Rights-Or at Least Civil Union Style Protections-During the Past Year

Article excerpt

After two years together, Ricardo Salas and his partner, Quique Palma, 29, are ready to marry. They've set a date for January 2006 and are saving every penny for the honeymoon.

"We would like it to be a ceremony that all of our friends would attend," says Salas, 31, from his home in Barcelona, Spain. "All of the people who love us and, of course, our families will be there. We are planning a theme party, like a Japanese-themed event or something of the sort."

While same-sex unions are not yet legal in Spain, the new liberal Socialist government is expected to officially approve the move by this summer.

Spain is just one of a half dozen countries worldwide that have made crucial strides toward marriage rights--or at least civil union-like protections--during the past year.

In April, New Zealand's Civil Union Bill gave unmarried couples crucial rights in such areas as child custody, taxation, and welfare. Brazil has also extended rights to same-sex couples. In December same-sex couples in the United Kingdom will get the same tax and pension rights as straight couples under the Civil Partnership Bill.

What country will be next to offer protections to gay and lesbian couples? "It seems that Sweden will be the next country after Spain to open up marriage. It's difficult to say which country will follow after that," says Kees Waaldijk, law professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Still, Spain continues to represent the most dramatic turn for gay equality. In March 2004, just days after the Madrid train bombings, voters tossed out the Popular Party for the Socialists, led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He immediately promised liberal reform.

"Spain is different from the first countries who led the way," says Lee Badgett, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and research director of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies. "Because it is very religious, it's more like the countries that have been slow to act. That's why it's interesting to see what is happening there."

The Vatican has issued numerous statements scolding the Spanish government and people for allowing the law to pass. And newly appointed Pope Benedict XVI has said fighting any equal marriage efforts will be a priority of his reign, with specific pressure on Catholics in Spain.

For European gay and lesbian couples already legally married, Spain's direction is stunning.

In June 2003, Lin and Martha McDevitt-Pugh were on holiday in Spain during a massive rally for gay rights in Madrid. As one of the first legally married same-sex couples in the world, having taken advantage of a historic December 2000 law giving same-sex couples the right to wed in the Netherlands, the Dutch couple felt compelled to stand out as a voice for equality at the rally.

"We had the only sign calling for gay marriage in the entire crowd," Martha says. "There was no sense among anyone that Spain would change its laws anytime soon. It's a very religious country. It just didn't seem imminent at all."

Lin, a librarian, and Martha, a writer, are enjoying their newfound rights as countries in every direction argue over the issue. In May they celebrated their fourth anniversary.

Within the Netherlands, they have the same rights as any couple. Heading west to Belgium, which enacted equal marriage tights in January 2003, they are still protected. …

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