Spanish gays get full legal rights

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The Independent Online

The law legalising gay marriage in Spain has cleared its last bureaucratic formality- being published in an official government registry - and will take effect today. An official of the ruling Socialist party, which sponsored the law, said the party will now seek legislation to protect Spain's estimated 8,000 trans-sexuals.

The gay marriage law, passed on Thursday by the lower house of parliament, was published in the Boletin Oficial del Estado, which records all government decisions in Spain. The law was signed by King Juan Carlos and the Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Gay couples are not expected to start getting married until late this month because of the paperwork needed before they go to town halls and other civil bodies that marry people in Spain, according to Spain's main Federation of Gays and Lesbians. The law gives same-sex couples the right to wed, adopt children and inherit each other's property, making their legal status the same as heterosexual couples.

Gay and lesbian groups planned a big street rally for Saturday evening in Madrid to celebrate passage of the law, which makes Spain the third country in the world to grant full recognition to gay marriage. The others are the Netherlands and Belgium. Canada is expected to follow suit later this month. Several European countries and a few US states recognise civil unions among same-sex couples but this falls short of treating them like married couples.

There was fierce criticism of the law from the Catholic church, with Bishop Ricardo Blazquez branding it unconstitutional. He called the law's passage "a sad day for the Spanish people because the stability of marriage has been gravely injured and tremendous confusion over marriage and family has been unleashed".

Meanwhile Pedro Zerolo, a Madrid town councillor who is gay and heads the Socialist party's social policy department, said that when parliament reconvenes after its summer recess the government will present a bill that aims to regulate treatment of trans-sexuals. One issue that has not been settled is whether it will pay for sex-change operations.

Such funding was a plank in the Socialist platform for the March 2004 general election that the party won. But the government has to negotiate this with regional governments because in Spain it is they, not Madrid, who are responsible for state-paid healthcare.

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