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Issue Date:  June 17, 2005

Gay marriage moves forward in Spain


At noon each day, a cannon shot resounds in the Eternal City. It is a reminder to Romans and all Italians of their victory over the papacy and the birth of the Italian Republic more than 150 years ago. Prego.

Closer to our own times, another secular victory approaches in a country no less Catholic than Spain. In late April the lower house of the Spanish parliament gave its preliminary approval -- 183 to 136, with six abstentions -- to a bill that would make Spain the third country in Europe to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt children. Bravo.

The proposed language of the new civil law would include the phrase: “Matrimony shall have the same requisites and effects regardless of whether the persons involved are of the same or different genders.”

A reformulation of marriage doesn’t come much simpler or clearer. It is another step forward in the global progress of human rights for gay and lesbian people. Spain has come a long way. During the Spanish Inquisition, for instance, while Jews were expelled, “sodomites” were burned at the stake as autos da fe, or “acts of faith.” Only 30 years ago, a fascist dictator ruled Spain. This Spanish turnabout to liberty, represented by the eventuality of gay marriage, is truly remarkable.

When the Spanish Senate votes to approve the measure, Spain will join the list of two other European countries, Catholic Belgium and the Netherlands, which have already legalized marriage equality.

Undoubtedly the impeding reality of Spanish gay marriage is a big defeat for Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The legislation is a direct shot at Rome. Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has said as much. He wants to create a secular state and level the playing field by removing what he says are the church’s undeniable advantages.

Chalk up this victory in Spain to what Benedict terms the “dictatorship of relativism” -- liberation theology as well as the pluralistic secular impulses that run through the bloodstream of most modern democratic states. That is the liberty and freedom most notably absent in the Vatican City state.

Last fall one church spokesperson called gay marriage counterfeit currency. “It would impose on society a virus, something false, which will have negative consequences for social life,” Juan Antonio Martínez Camino said, quoted by the BBC.

Now Benedict’s leadership comes out with more fighting words. Colombian Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family, decried the gay marriage legislation -- likely to become law this summer -- as profoundly iniquitous, according to BBC News.

The news agency Reuters also quotes Trujillo as saying that Spanish gay marriage “has changed and falsified the very definition of marriage,” adding that same-sex couples who adopt children are doing “moral violence” to them.

“People say these children adopted by same-sex couples are very happy. Maybe, when they are one or two years old,” Trujillo said. “But when they are able to think for themselves, when they grow up, what a tragedy when they have to say, ‘My parents are two men, or two women.’ Their personality, their stability is put at risk.”

Cardinal Trujillo told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Christians should use their freedom of conscience, in effect do civil disobedience, to resist the new law he calls “deeply offensive to morality.” Trujillo said that every profession associated with implementing gay marriage should oppose it -- even if people lose their jobs, the BBC reported.

Yet the most bizarre comment came from the archbishop emeritus of Barcelona. “To obey the law over conscience takes us back to Auschwitz,” said Cardinal Gordó Ricard María Carles.

All this Catholic ugly talk about gays -- iniquity, virus, moral violence, deeply offensive to morality -- really should not surprise anyone. They are voices from the echo chamber of then-Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcement agency.

Meanwhile, let the Roman cannon shot be heard and celebrated in Spain and all around the world

Freelance journalist Chuck Colbert is a frequent contributor to NCR.

National Catholic Reporter, June 17, 2005

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