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Gay Marriage in Spain

Aired November 23, 2004 - 23:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Unfaithful. Spain's Socialist reformers push for gay marriage, easier divorce and an end to the church's tight embrace of the Spanish state. For conservative Catholics, it's a betrayal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): For me, this is an atheist left against all Catholics and against Spain.


Hello and welcome.

Spain has ties to the Roman Catholic church that go back 15 centuries. It's impossible to imagine the country, its history, its identity, without it. Even today, the Spanish government says it puts more than 3 billion euros of public money into the churches collection plate.

But after six months in office, Spain's new Socialist government is making different plans for the future. Catholic teaching will lose its privileged position in public life.

On our program today, turning from the church.

Our Madrid bureau chief, Al Goodman, reports.


AL GOODMAN, CNN MADRID BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Roman Catholic religion class at a Madrid public school. Sixth graders ponder the legacy of Jesus while the new Socialist government ponders big changes for religion classes.

Religion class is optional for students, but the Socialist have put on hold a law that would have counted grades for religion class toward a student's final average.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It seems to me like a clear attack on the church, although they want us to think otherwise. As a Christian who goes to mass, it feels like an attack.

GOODMAN: Government officials say it's not an attack on the church, just a sign that many Spaniards want a secular society.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Not having it count toward a student's grade average doesn't lessen the importance of religion class. Maybe the fear is that the government could go further, which is not our intention.

GOODMAN: Prime Minister Jose Louis Rodriguez Zapatero visited Pope John II at the Vatican last June soon after taking office. He heard the pope's strong reminder about Spain's historic Christian heritage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I told him the Spanish government is willing to maintain an open relationship of dialogue with the Vatican, the Spanish bishops conference and with the Catholic church in general.

GOODMAN: But the Spanish church isn't relying on faith alone to resolve this dispute. Church leaders have publicly criticized the government over its stand on education and the church says it has collected 500,000 signatures on petitions blasting the education reforms. It's aiming for a million.

Yet the government says it will continue to pay the 9,000 religion teachers on the public payroll, even though it's the church, not the state, that selects them for the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You can't forget that the money the state pays for their religion teachers is not a gift to the church. Those teachers are there because the parents want them there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think Spain has progressed a great deal and the society doesn't want a confrontation over these reforms.

GOODMAN: But the confrontation is evident. "Yes to life, no to abortion," these protestors shouted recently outside the headquarters of the ruling Socialist Party. Abortion is currently permitted in Spain under three circumstances: rape, a malformed fetus or a threat to the mother's physical or mental health.

Another government reform would allow abortion on demand.

"We want other alternatives, because a mother has a right to have her child," says this protestor.

This Madrid clinic was one of the first to offer abortions in Spain 18 years ago. It performs more than 5,000 abortions per year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): To eliminate the current barriers, to have to get a medical reporter, to have to justify the abortion before someone else, I think it's a very important advance for women.

GOODMAN: Spain has changed enormously since the dictator Francisco Franco, who had close ties with the church, died nearly 30 years ago.

The new government also plans to make it easier to get a divorce and recently cleared the way for some limited stem cell research. Both measures upset the church.

(on camera): The Catholic encyclopedia says Spain has the world's seventh largest Catholic population. More than 90 percent of Spaniards say they are Catholic, but polls show just two out of ten regularly attend mass.

(voice-over): It's not unlike some other countries in Western Europe with strong Catholic traditions, but where the flock often strays.

"I think the government is trying to take away some of the importance the Church has had until now," says this agricultural engineer.

But at this Madrid meeting of Catholics to discuss a secular society, there was a sense of pain.

"I think this is horrible," says this housewife. "For me, this is an atheist left against all Catholics and against Spain. The new government says it's just implementing campaign pledges and not picking a fight with the church, but many of the faithful don't believe it, even as they see the reforms hitting the church head-on.

Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


MANN: One of the most immediate changes is likely to be gay marriage. Legislation put before the parliament is expected to become law early in the new year.

Once again, here's Al Goodman.


GOODMAN (voice-over): Dancing the night away in a Madrid gay bar, a celebration after the new Socialist government took a big step toward legalizing homosexual marriage, once unthinkable in a country steeped in Roman Catholic tradition. But Spain is now moving to a different beat.

Emma Colate (ph) is a lesbian and a club bouncer.

"I've dreamed of getting married since I was little," she says, "but social circumstances prevented it. Now we'll be able to do what we want."

This couple plans to get married. They own a Madrid hostel catering to gay clients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think that we are the same (UNINTELLIGIBLE) then the principle thing that we will win with the right to get married is respect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been living together for seven years, almost seven years, and I want the same rights as the rest of the population in this country.

GOODMAN: Prime Minister Zapatero agrees. He put the policy to parliament soon after winning the election.

JOSE LOUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO, SPANISH PRIME MIN. (through translator): Homosexuals and transsexuals deserve the same public consideration as heterosexuals. We will modify the civil code to recognize their equal right to marriage.

GOODMAN: The government estimates there are 4 million homosexuals in Spain, nearly 10 percent of the population. At least 10,000 homosexual couples are in relationships already recognized by the state. If the law passes, they could adopt children and have the same rights on inheritance and pensions as heterosexual partners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There are already thousands of children in Spain who live with homosexual parents and more than 50 studies have found no evidence that homosexual fathers or mothers are worse.

GOODMAN: But the powerful Roman Catholic Church strongly disagrees. A senior cleric called gay marriage a virus and the prime minister got an earful recently in church from the Archbishop of Santiago.

"Marriage is essentially heterosexual and the undeniable basis for the family," he said, "whose rupture would mean the breakdown of society.

Spain's highest church authority also wants to stop the initiative.

"The church in Spain and the church in the world have a negative judgment. We think it does not respond to the truth of matrimony and therefore is unjust."

(on camera): It's in places like Chueca, a Madrid neighborhood with a large gay population and lots of gay-owned bars and restaurants, that the expected law authorizing gay marriage is being closely watched.

(voice-over): And opinions are mixed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am really in love with a person. I'm going to get married.

GOODMAN: "This is going to be difficult in Spain," says this student, "because there is still a backward attitude here."

Just 30 years ago, under dictator Francisco Franco, homosexuality was a crime. But things have changed. A recent poll found that 62 percent of Spaniards backed the gay marriage legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The new generations don't believe in the old Spain where nothing changes. We believe things can change.

GOODMAN: And in another sign that the old taboos are falling, a Spanish feature film is being made about gay marriage as a comedy. The script was written more than a year ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's stimulating that in a way you are not exaggerating reality. It's a reality (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you imagined wasn't the way and you think it should happen, this social readjustment, which now is actually happening.

GOODMAN: But in an apparent sign of the continuing controversy over gay marriage, Spain's supreme court refused to let the director film a scene inside the courthouse after initially giving permission.

The court told CNN the movie could have caused confusion about the high court.

There's plenty of talk, even confusion, in the streets about the proposed law. Yet Spain, once one of the most socially conservative countries in Europe, may become just the third state on the continent to legalize gay marriage.

Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


MANN: We take a break. When we come back, one of the people behind the push for change, Spain's justice minister, will join us.

Stay with us.


MANN: From the 1940s until the mid `70s, Spain proclaimed that General Francisco Franco ruled by the grace of God.

The Catholic church agreed, worked loyally with the regime, and bolstered its legitimacy. In return, Franco granted the church real power in public life.

Welcome back.

Even after Franco's death in 1975 and the advent of democracy, Catholicism was guaranteed a special place in Spain in treaties with the Vatican. The Socialists running Spain took over a country with an official, extensive and expensive relationship with religion.

A short time ago we got in touch with the Spanish Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar to talk about it.


JUAN FERNANDO LOPEZ AGUILAR, SPANISH JUSTICE MIN.: The Spanish constitution provides that every government must pay tribute to the role the Catholic church has played in our society for centuries.

So, of course, there is budgetary support for the role of the Catholic church in education and social welfare. So it's a total amount of about 3,500,000 euro, which is pretty large sum. But, of course, we also must be tribute to our commitments before the citizenship in fulfilling our political agenda.

So we are ready to promote change. We are ready to promote reforms. And we are ready to explain to the Catholic church that there is no offense intended to or against the Catholic church but just the simple political commitment before the citizenship.

MANN: How much is going to change in your government, in your country, as a result?

AGUILAR: We are promoting and extending civil rights, particularly concerning the legislation of marriage, in order to make it possible for the gay people or people of the same sex to marry.

We are also promoting legislation in order to deal with gender violence, which is a massive problem, and the secretary of government has committed itself as a whole to combat this kind of violence in every possible way.

We also are promoting reform of the civil code in order to get a speedy, fast track to divorce and to eliminate all of the difficulties that are contemplated by the statutory acts right now concerning divorce.

And we are also ready to tackle different reforms throughout the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but we are also ready to explain very carefully each and every one of them, and, of course, to get the largest implication of the society and the citizenship as a whole, and ready, of course, to have a constructive dialogue with the Catholic church in order to make clear that no offense is intended at all.

MANN: I'd like to ask you about that in a moment, but just very quickly, you didn't mention abortion, I don't believe. You didn't mention the agreements with the Vatican that date back to 1979. And you didn't mention measures which I gather are also being contemplated to end the public display of the crucifix or other Christian symbols in state or public places. Those too are going to happen, right?

AGUILAR: Yes, those are important issues, but each one of a different kind.

Concerning abortion, the regulation is contemplated in the criminal code. So we have an intention of reforming the criminal code throughout the legislature, but we want to do it in a rational way in the second half of the legislature.

The end of this reform would be to enhance the free choice of the pregnant mother in order to make a decision of her own. And we are ready to tackle this issue in the second-half of the legislature, but it is not a priority in our contemporary agenda.

It is a priority to reestablish the position of the teaching of religion and all kinds of confessions in the Spanish education system and, of course, it effects the agreements that were established between the Spanish government and the Holy See in 1979.

There were three international treaties between the Spanish state and the Holy See concerning different aspects of the presence of the Catholic church in Spanish life. But probably the most delicate and important one would be the educational field, because in Spain there has been a protracted presence of the confessional teachings and we want to rearrange the position of religion in our public educational system in order to make sure that no religion is compulsory in our educational system and no religion is taken into consideration in order to promote the students, the different pupils, in their curriculum, in their access to the higher degrees of education and, of course, to university.

And we are sure that through dialogue and cooperation with the Catholic church, these measures are not only to be understood but also to be accepted in large measure by the vast majority of the Spanish population.

MANN: This is all an enormous change in a country where Catholicism has been very powerful, very widespread, for 15 centuries. The Church says there has been no negotiation, no consultation. Is that true?

AGUILAR: No, not at all. Of course we are ready to keep a permanent dialogue with the representatives of the catholic church in Spain. We are also ready to make the best of that permanent dialogue with our institutional representation.

But we are also ready to keep forward in a path of change which is the main goal of this legislature, which is the main goal of the whole government of Zapatero as a prime minister.

We are committed to promote change. I think this is the role of the Socialist Party in government, to make progressive change, to make things change for the better.

We are clear and conscious and aware that the vast majority of the voters have made a bet for change when they cast their ballot for Zapatero, and what's expected from us is exactly to stick by our commitments and to honor the word that has been given before the citizenship. So we are ready to comply with our commitments and to put change forward.

MANN: Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, Justice Minister of Spain, thank you very much for this.


We have to take a break. When we come back, the case for holding on to the church and holding out against change.

Stay with us.



MANN (voice-over): Europe as a whole had to address Catholic doctrine in an unexpected way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On gender and sexual orientation.

MANN: Last month an Italian nominee for the European Commission said that he accepted the church doctrine, that homosexuality is a sin. The entire incoming European Commission was in effect vetoed and the E.U. plunged into crisis until Rocco Buttiglione, a close friend of the pope's, withdrew his candidacy.


Welcome back.

The E.U. had just been through another debate about entrenching a reference to Europe's Christian heritage in its constitution and, there too, their traditionalists were forced to retreat.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace, complained of what he called an anti-Catholic inquisition underway in Europe.

Spain's former foreign minister, conservative Ana Palacio, spoke to us earlier about the changes underway in her country.


ANA PALACIO, FMR. SPANISH PRIME MIN.: This, in the end, is another example of a policy of this new government, of Mr. Zapatero's government, that doesn't take initiatives on the merit, on substance, on general interest, but on how the government feels that this will sell in terms of popularity.

And so we are facing what could be big changes that would go into the deeply rooted cultural values and principles, because in Spain, one out of five -- only one out of five of Spanish go regularly to mass. But four out of five would say that they share the values and principles of the church.

And here we have all of these initiative that are, as I said, are going against these values and principles which are essential and are entrenched in our communities.

MANN: Which particular policies, though, do you disagree with? Are the educational changes a problem? Are the changes in marriage law or divorce law a problem? It would seem that for many Spaniards these things are popular measures.

PALACIO: No. Well, these are very different issues. The only thing that they have in common is that there is a tendency to, well, view the Spanish that share certain values and principles as backward-looking and to hijack -- there is a tendency to hijack what rationality, what being modern is, which is what they have in common.

If we take homosexual marriages, well, I think that in Spain there would be an overwhelming majority to have an institution, but not marriage. A conjugal union or whatever they want to call it, that would protect and give the same rights in terms of social or inheritance or taxes that the marriage gives. But marriage is an institution that is really entrenched in our culture, and you know that because you had during the campaign, and you voted for referendum on these issues.

On the education reform, as I said, four out of five Spaniards say they share the values and principles of the church, and they want their kids to receive this education and they want it to be a serious matter, something that is taken into account and not something that is just alien to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

In fact, there is just one country in Europe which has this approach, which is France, but France is a very different background, a very different context, and we do not have this context. So the comparison is not possible.

MANN: Just one last question for you. There is already talk of church-organized demonstrations next month. How big a conflict, how big a problem, is this going to create in Spanish society?

PALACIO: Well, as I said, I still hope that these balloons will transform themselves and we will avoid confrontation. Nobody wants social confrontation.

We want a dialogue, a clear dialogue, and this is true for the representatives of the church and for the society in general. And I hope that there is still room for dialogue and that we will take advantage of it.

MANN: Because up until now, it would seem there has really been no organized opposition. The church has spoken against these measures, but Spaniards once again seem to be accepting them for the most part.

PALACIO: Well, yes. This would bring us very far on a reflection on what the history of Spain has been and to what extent being dubbed the backward-looking or under-country, how valuable it is to be seen as modern.

But I'm sure that the society at large does not want to have this aggressive attitude against, as I said, values and principles that the majority of Spaniards share.

MANN: Ana Palacio, thank you so much for this.

PALACIO: Thank you.


MANN: That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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