By Lisa Keen
June’s association with weddings and gay pride got a major boost as the Spanish Congress of Deputies and the Canadian House of Commons both approved legalization of marriages for same-sex couples in their countries.
The vote in Spain on June 30 made Spain the third country in the world to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, and the first to give same-sex married couples all the rights of heterosexual married couples. The Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage in 2000 and couples began marrying in 2001, but the country does not allow native residents to marry foreign nationals. Belgium legalized marriage for same-sex couples in 2003 but does not allow gay couples to adopt children.
Nine of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have legalized marriage for same-sex couples, but a vote in the House of Commons on June 28 will extend that right into its remaining four. The measure must still pass the Canadian Senate, which will reconvene this week, but the liberal body is said to overwhelmingly support the measure. Once it does, Canada will become the fourth nation to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
It was the news in Spain that created the most excitement, both because the news caught many by surprise and because of the country is seen as so heavily Catholic. News reports indicated that, upon passage of the bill, gays watching the proceedings inside the Congressional hall erupted with applause and cheering.
Reuters news service quoted a leader of the gay movement in Spain, Beatriz Gimeno, as saying, “It is a historic day for the world’s homosexuals. We have been fighting for many years. Now comes the hardest part, which is changing society’s mentality.”
The law, which passed on a 187 to 147 vote, stated simply that marriage “will have the same requirements and results when the two people entering into the contract are of the same sex or of different sexes.” Both Prime Minister Juan Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos signed the measure, which went into effect Sunday. Following the preparation of related administrative documents, same-sex couples are expected to start marrying there later this month. The law in Spain will also allow foreign nationals to marry there, following a 21-day residence and certain other requirements.
Following the vote on Wednesday, Prime Minister Zapatero and other officials also applauded the action.
“We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last,” said Zapatero, according to a number of news reports. “After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality.” He called the marriage bill itself a “small change in wording that means an immense change in the lives of thousands of citizens.”
Associated Press reported that more than 100,000 people “packed the streets” of the Spanish capital of Madrid on Saturday to celebrate the law’s passage.
In Canada, the House of Commons vote was 158 to 133. The bill was introduced by the minority Liberal party in reaction to rulings by Canadian courts in eight of the country’s provinces that denial of marriage to same-sex couples violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the United States, only Massachusetts has legalized marriage for same-sex couples, and two states – Vermont and Connecticut – have approved civil unions with all the state-issued rights of marriage. The Washington Post reported last week that the popularity of civil unions in Vermont has dropped off dramatically since Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May 2004. Of 7,549 civil unions licensed in Vermont since July 1, 2000, said the Post, only 78 – or one percent – have been dissolved.
By Lisa Keen