Spain's clergy rally support to oppose gay marriage law

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The Independent Online

Bishops in full regalia and legions of nuns from all over Spain take to the streets in Madrid today against gay marriages, in the church's biggest political mobilisation since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

Bishops in full regalia and legions of nuns from all over Spain take to the streets in Madrid today against gay marriages, in the church's biggest political mobilisation since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

"We face a unique situation in the history of humanity," said Jose Antonio Martinez Campo, a spokesman for Spain's episcopal conference. "The Catholic church has encountered nothing like it in 2,000 years."

The bishops' organisation has given unprecedented support to the rally, organised by the Forum for the Family, an association of traditional-minded Catholic groups. Parishes have chartered hundreds of coaches, and the forum expects to attract up to a million people.

Fr Martinez Campo called the bishops' political action "exceptional conduct for an exceptional situation". The gay marriage law, which is before Spain's Senate and is expected to be approved this month, "represents the disappearance of marriage as the union of a man and a woman ... with grave consequences for society," he added.

This is the most ambitious mobilisation by the Spanish right since their surprise electoral defeat in March last year. Flabbergasted and disconcerted by being thrown from power, conservative forces floundered for more than a year. Today's rally marks the first coherent counter-offensive against the socialist government.

The rally is backed by the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), a vociferous wing trying to destabilise Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's rule.

Spain's gay and lesbian federation said: "Equality is complete or it is not equality. Lesbians and gays want, like any other citizens, to be able to decide freely if they marry, and if so, with whom."

The federation, which usually garners a million supporters for Madrid's annual gay pride march, said it would not set up a counter-demonstration.

"The supporters of the Forum for the Family have every right to demonstrate," said the federation's spokeswoman, Beatriz Gimeno. "But it is a march of intolerance. Their only objective is to oppose our rights."

Instead, gays invited all those "who support liberty and diversity" to join a carnival street party this afternoon in another central part of Madrid, at which the musician Carlinhos Brown is to perform.

Gays in the PP - who claim to represent a million conservative votes - have opposed the march. And Christian homosexuals criticised the mobilisation as an un-Christian act of discrimination against a minority. The crisscrossing of opinions has prompted a massive nationwide debate on gay rights that has dominated Spanish media.

Not all Spanish bishops favour the march. Basque and Catalan bishops say they will stay at home, and have issued no appeal for their parishioners to march.

The demonstration comes on the eve of regional elections. In Galicia, the veteran conservative Manuel Fraga, 82, a former minister for General Franco, is seeking a fifth term as regional prime minister. Mariano Rajoy, the PP leader, and Mr Zapatero have been campaigning vigorously in the region.

Mr Fraga built the PP in Galicia out of the rubble of Francoism, and the region remains the party's heartland. Defeat would plunge the party nationally into crisis, perhaps provoking a split. Victory for Mr Fraga would boost the party's campaign for early elections to oust Mr Zapatero.

Polls suggest a close result. Surveys show that some 80 per cent of Spaniards approve the homosexual marriage law, which enables gay couples to adopt children with full rights of inheritance. Some 5,000 gay couples have announced plans to marry when the law comes into effect.

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