Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Catholic Leaders in Spain Join Gay-Marriage Protests ; Bishops Were among Some 200,000 Who Rallied Saturday against a New Marriage Law

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Catholic Leaders in Spain Join Gay-Marriage Protests ; Bishops Were among Some 200,000 Who Rallied Saturday against a New Marriage Law

Article excerpt

Hundreds of thousands gathered in Madrid's summer heat Saturday to protest gay marriage which the Spanish parliament is expected to legalize on June 30th. But among the young parents pushing baby strollers, elderly couples holding hands, and teenagers dancing to loud music, one group stood out. Nineteen of the country's bishops - dressed in black shirts and suit jackets - participated for the first time in Spain's democratic history in a demonstration against a government initiative.

Although organized by the secular Spanish Forum for the Family, the march received public support from the country's Episcopal Conference, a body that oversees Spain's Roman Catholic Church. Several of the conference's member bishops provided transportation for their dioceses and marched in the protest. The bishops' participation has sharpened the debate here over the church's role in national politics.

Demonstration supporters say that the protest was not ultimately about politics. "The march has political content," says Ignacio Arsuaga, spokesman for the Family Forum, "because we are responding to a government attack, because we want the government to listen to us. But it is a social and civic act."

Organizers say they aren't against gay civil unions, including the right to tax breaks and pensions. But they don't support gay adoption rights or moves to redefine matrimony, which they see as a religious sacrament between a man and a woman. If the law passes, Spain will become the second European country to legalize both gay marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples. The Netherlands was the first in 2001.

The Episcopal Conference's spokesman, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, says "This is about human rights - not politics." Yet Mr. Martinez, who declared last fall that the Catholic Church "never has, nor will it now, organize political demonstrations," added, "Of course, we're happy that there are parties that agree with us."

Critics say the bishops' participation crosses a line. "The position of the church is that like anyone else, it has the right to express its opinion publicly," says Carlos Garcia Andoin, head of the Christian Socialists and a former functionary for the Diocese of Bilbao. …

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