LGBT web site for Iberia: http://www.gayiberia.com/home.html
January 25, 2005
Spain Tells Pope To Stay Out Of Gay Marriage Debate
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Madrid – Spain’s Socialist government Tuesday told the Vatican to stop butting in on affairs of state. The warning came from Defense Minister Jose Bono. The Vatican has publicly rebuked the government for bring in legislation on same-sex marriage and for streamlining laws on abortion and divorce. "Faith is not something a government can impose. It is not something that it is up to the state, but rather to people," Defense Bono told Spanish radio.
That the criticism came from Bono was particularly noteworthy. He is the only practicing Catholic in the government. In the radio interview Bono said some of the church’s positions, such as its opposition to homosexuality and the use of condoms, go against the message of Jesus Christ.
"Today, Christ would be more worried about the 25,000 children who die each day of hunger or in wars. I think Christ would side with those who are peaceful," Bono said. The criticism of the Church’s stand came a day after the Pope, in a meeting with visiting Spanish bishops, said secular trends in Spain were leading youth to become indifferent to religion.
The remarks were seen in the Spanish press as a stiff rebuke of the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Last June, shortly after Zapatero announced the gay marriage bill, he was summoned to the Vatican for a severe tongue lashing from Pope John Paul. On the weekend, the Pope attacked the use of condoms, after a leading Spanish prelate said that bishops support the use of contraceptives to fight AIDS. The prelate quickly backtracked after the Vatican intervened.
January 27, 2005
Analysis: Battle over gay law in Spain
by Roland Flamini, Chief International Correspondent Washington, DC
Had Spain’s Popular Party been re-elected last March this was to have been the year of Queen Isabella. To honor King Ferdinand’s wife, who died in November 1504 and was known as Isabella the Catholic because of her part in driving the Muslims out of Spain, the outgoing conservative government had already planned major exhibitions, lectures, and concerts of ancient music.
In an unexpected upset, the Popular Party was ousted by the socialists led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The new government had other priorities and cut back the Isabella centenary celebrations. If the conservatives had planned to use the occasion to affirm Spain’s Catholic roots, Zapatero’s critics believe that he is taking the country in the opposite direction.
He is moving toward a more secular society and challenging the traditional influence of the Spanish church. His plan to legalize gay marriages and the adoption of children by gay couples, to streamline divorce procedures, make abortion more accessible, advance stem cell research, and — most recently — to make contraceptives available to teenagers as protection against AIDS have brought him into direct conflict with the Spanish hierarchy and the Vatican.
On Monday, Pope John Paul II denounced what he called the new secular course of Spanish politics and warned that, "Spain is gradually moving toward a restriction of religious freedom that promotes a disdain and an ignorance of religion." The pope’s public admonition, delivered to the Spanish bishops who were visiting him in Rome, was the latest in the Vatican’s surprisingly public offensive against what the Spanish government sees as social reforms.
The pope’s remarks brought an irritated comment from Zapatero, "never before has Spain enjoyed as much religious, ideological and political freedom as it does now." The Vatican representative in Madrid was summoned to the Spanish Foreign Ministry and asked to explain the pope’s speech, which is diplomatic speak for an official protest. Critics feel that Zapatero’s new legislation, which is expected to take effect later this year, is altering the nature of Spanish society and turning Spain into what is being called "the Netherlands of the south," a reference to Holland’s ultraliberal social laws. The Vatican concern, according to observers, goes further.
The worry in Rome is that other left-wing governments will come under pressure to follow the Spanish "reforms," perhaps even on the pope’s own doorstep, should the Italian left win the next election. Zapatero said in a recent interview that he is simply fulfilling his party’s campaign promises — just as he was doing when he withdrew Spain’s forces from Iraq, causing a rift with Washington. "The citizens voted for this, it was in (the socialist party’s) election program," he said. "All the polls show a 60 percent support for these laws. The government has no interest in a conflict with the Catholic Church and respects its opinions. The church doesn’t approve of these laws? This doesn’t slow down the government’s program, or the extension of rights to citizens that don’t have them."
The more cynical view, expressed by one seasoned political observer in Madrid was that Zapatero’s controversial legislation is an attempt to establish his socialist credentials. "He wasn’t exactly a household name when he was elected, and, wanted or not, the fight with the church has brought him a lot of attention," the observer said.
The Spanish hierarchy has put up a strong opposition to the legislation. One prelate accused the government of planning to kill the Catholic Church. The Conference of Spanish Bishops has said the government is planting "a virus" in Spanish society, and argued that a gay marriage is a contradiction since the union cannot procreate. The church will not even discuss a government proposal that it should assume responsibility for the salaries of the 30,000 teachers of religious doctrine in state schools that are presently paid by the government — to say nothing of Zapatero’s request to renegotiate Spain’s agreement with the Vatican (known as a concordat) which requires the state to pay salaries to the 20,000 members of the Spanish clergy.
But though 90 percent of Spaniards are baptized in the Catholic Church, 81 percent describe themselves as Catholics, and most marry in church, observers point out that there has been no groundswell of support for the church’s position. This is partly because religion does not seem to rate very highly in current Spanish priorities.
A recent poll showed that only 5 percent of self-described young Catholics obey the church’s rules of morality, and some commentators lament that a great many Spaniards practice "lite" Catholicism. But Catholic sociologist Rafael Diaz Salazar says the dispute has opened a rift between Spanish Catholics and many priests on one side and the senior hierarchy on the other. Salazar was recently quoted as saying that there is grassroots "irritation" and "anger" over the hierarchy’s opposition to the government because (the bishops) are generally chosen by Rome anyway.
" Besides the bishops, opposition is coming mostly from the more conservative section of the Popular Party. But even some non-socialists argue that with 12 out of 100 children being born to immigrants from Islamic North Africa and to a lesser extent from Latin America, Spanish identity is changing and it is not necessarily synonymous with Catholicism. "The government intends to abolish the Catholic Church’s undeniable of advantage," says Luis Guerra, undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice. "No religion can be more official than any other."
February 20, 2005
Fighting for poetic justice in Spain
by Geoff Pingree
Pedro Zerolo believes in poetry and constitutions — "humankind’s two greatest creations," he says with a luminous smile. Zerolo, 44, has the bright eyes, playful passion and disarming vulnerability of a child. His hip appearance — low-rise jeans, mustard jersey with zippered black sweater, beaded leather bracelet, and long unruly curls — makes one wonder if he could look less like a politician.
Yet Zerolo, who earlier this year became the first openly gay member of the ruling Socialist party’s executive committee, has rapidly become one of Spain’s most influential leaders. His turn at the podium at July’s Socialist Party Congress drew more applause than did the arrival of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. And perhaps more than any other person in government, Zerolo is responsible for Spain’s recent legalization of gay marriage and adoption. Born in Venezuela after his parents fled Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, Zerolo grew up in the Canary Islands when his family returned after the dictator’s death. He earned his law degree — and had his first homosexual experience — the same year the Socialists first took power in Spain. But those were different times, and the Socialists were a different party.
" We have to remember," Zerolo says, "that until 1978, gays were put in prisons like criminals, sent to psychiatric hospitals as mentally ill patients, and condemned to hell as sinners." When the country established its first constitution that year, he adds, "We finally escaped the prisons and got out of the psychiatric hospitals, but we still haven’t been freed from hell."
In the two decades since, Zerolo has been an iconoclastic crusader for human justice. In 1993 he helped forge and then lead Madrid’s Gay Collective, and in 1997 he headed the National Federation of Lesbians and Gays. He is also a compassionate and popular champion of the underdog (for his proper education, breadth of knowledge, and polite manners, he has been called the "gay son no mother would mind having") and a charismatic leader of what amounts to a new civil rights movement. Zerolo has given new life to the Socialist party, and he stands prominently on the nation’s rapidly evolving social landscape.
But Zerolo is not a man who stands still. "From my father I learned about ideas," he says, "and from my mother, the importance of putting ideas into practice." An unapologetic romantic, utopian, and leftist who cites poets as often as philosophers, who listens carefully and speaks precisely yet holds forth with the fire of a preacher, Zerolo is bent on changing the world. Convinced that just societies are held together by generosity and rational dialogue — "reason is the only goddess we should worship" together, he says — Zerolo notes that the gay rights movement in Spain has moved forward through determination and persuasion, "because we kept fighting for 25 years, put our dreams into action, took to the streets, made ourselves visible, and worked together every day, dreaming of a better society."
Spain, long one of Europe’s most conservative, Catholic nations, surprised many around the world when it became only the third country to legalize gay marriage, and just the second to allow gay couples to adopt children (Holland was the first to permit marriage between persons of the same sex, in 2000, and Belgium followed last year, with the provision that the couples cannot adopt children). Recent polls show that 68 percent of Spaniards believe that homosexuals deserve equal treatment under the law and that 66 percent support same-sex marriage. Zerolo says those statistics reflect years of dedication to the "revolutionary republican principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity" and confirm that "in the end, reason prevails."
Zapatero and members of his administration claim that the gay marriage and adoption initiative — and with their recent legislation against domestic violence and their unprecedented commitment to gender parity in the government — are not intended to remake Spain’s constitution. Rather, they say, the initiatives put into practice the civil rights that the constitution originally promised, and thus meet the public’s demand for fair treatment of all Spanish citizens.
The opposition Popular Party, which has declared support for legal changes that would permit gay marriages but opposes allowing gay couples to adopt children, characterizes the Socialists’ initiative as a precipitous and self-serving political gesture that exceeds good judgment as well as popular opinion. The Catholic Church has made clear its opposition to the Socialists’ plan, suggesting that legalizing gay marriage is akin to "introducing a virus" into society.
The gay marriage and adoption initiative marks a radical cultural shift in this traditionally patriarchal and machista society, but as Zerolo sees it, Spain is finally accepting its diversity and liberating itself from singular notions of what it should be. "Each person has his or her own truth," he says, "but reason is the consciousness that citizens must share" to create a fair and inclusive society. "Gays got liberty and equality with the constitution in 1978," he adds, "but we continue to seek full fraternity." Convinced that "personal and social happiness cannot be separated," Zerolo says he is in search of acceptance and inclusion for all Spaniards.
" There is still an ultraconservative element that does not include us in its worldview," he says, "but ultimately, this fight is not about gay marriage. As with the suffragist and civil rights movements in the United States, this is about recognition of our dignity. It’s the story of the struggle of all oppressed peoples — first liberty, then equality, and finally, fraternity." To build genuine community, he adds, "we must be brothers — you and me," repeating "you and me" over and over as he gestures enthusiastically with his finger. Although he acknowledges he is a prominent voice for gay rights, Zerolo insists that he is but one among many who are fighting for equality. "I’m proud to be a part of this project called Spain,” he says. "We’ve been with the last in accepting so many things, but in this we are among the first. This is Spain’s moment for true equality."
Geoff Pingree is a professor at Oberlin College who writes frequently about Spain.
March 11, 2005
Marginalised Muslims cause concern
A year on from the Madrid bombings, fears are growing that the ideological struggle to stop the next generation of militants in Europe is being lost, reports the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera. Muslims communities across Spain stand against terrorismAt Madrid’s vast mosque, Mohammed al-Affifi remembers the chilling impact of the 11 March 2004 bombing on community relations. "The confidence between the Muslim community and the Spanish people is damaged. It’s not so easy now for a Muslim person to find a flat. People say how do I know this person isn’t a terrorist?" Spain is not the only country where the atmospherics have changed in the years since 11 September 2001 and especially since the attacks on Madrid.
A report this week found that discrimination and intolerance against Muslims had increased in the last few years and identified growing distrust and hostility with a concern over polarisation in Europe and the growth of the far-right. In the Netherlands, the impact of the killing of film-maker Theo Van Gogh accelerated growing tensions. "As the fight against terrorism has been stepped up and the perceived threat of religious extremism has become a major focus of public debate, Muslims have increasingly felt that they are stigmatised because of their beliefs," Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for human rights, said in a statement.
Beyond Bin Laden
What worries policymakers is that this dynamic is merely fuelling a problem that could lead to the radicalisation of a new generation.
Madrid revealed how the threat from international terrorism had evolved. Those who carried out the attack were not sent out by Osama Bin Laden, but instead came from self-starting, largely autonomous local groups. British ministers recently said that there had been a shift from seeing the danger coming externally from foreign nationals to seeing a growing involvement of UK citizens in terrorism – and across Europe, there is a concern about a threat which is more dispersed, but also perhaps more dangerous.
Tributes to remember the victims of the Madrid bombings one year ago"The Madrid attack moved the goal posts beyond Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda as a structured organisation," says Magnus Ranstorp from the Swedish National Defence College. "We have a hard time keeping up with the terrorist individuals and groups who are radicalising a new generation. "What people are concerned with here in Europe particularly is understanding the recruitment and radicalisation processes, the broader issues of the failure of social integration within many European states (and) preventing the next generation from heading the call that Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have made."
Senior British officials openly say that in many places, the ideological appeal of al-Qaeda remains undiminished. And both the EU as a whole and member states like the UK have conducted their own studies of what leads to the radicalisation of a small number of young Muslims and their recruitment into violent activity.
The Iraq factor
Foreign policy is a major driver, acknowledges Gijs De Vries, the EU’s counter-terrorist co-ordinator. "There’s no question the war in Iraq and lack of process in the Middle East peace process has been exploited by radical propagandists to try and recruit for terrorism. These conflicts therefore are important as tools in efforts to radicalise Muslims." Intelligence officials believe the conflict in Iraq may be temporarily absorbing volunteers and energy from Europe. But there are also concerns that it is playing a major role in radicalisation, with signs of a new generation of young Europeans going to Iraq to fight.
After the bombings, many Muslims felt alienatedFrench counter-terrorism expert Claude Moniquet says the evidence so far of Europeans fighting in Iraq points to a worrying trend. "We know from the people captured and killed in Fallujah that they were very young – 18, 19 or 20 – which means on 11 September, they were between 14 and 16. "It’s a new generation of jihadists which is just coming out. Before Iraq, usually the average age of the jihadists was between 25 and 30. Now it’s 20."
The numbers are not huge, but one concern is that in previous cases like Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia, the fighters who came back to their home countries became key figures in setting up new militant cells. Gijs de Vries and others believe that a peaceful resolution of international conflicts will be critical to winning the ideological battle. "An Iraq which is at peace, which is stable and which respects its neighbours can be a powerful force for good in that part of the world. That’s why the EU is putting a lot of money towards democratic reform. "Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would deal a major blow to radical propagandists for terrorist activities, even if by itself it won’t eradicate terrorism."
For Mohammed al-Afifi in Madrid, the concern is that the issue of fighting terrorism is being dealt with in a one-sided manner and the ideological battle is being lost, partly because of government policies – whether over Iraq or domestic counter-terrorism
He argues that the current approach is too simplistic and fails to understand that the issues of injustice and discrimination will only make the fight against al-Qaeda’s ideology harder. "When we are talking now about how to fight terrorism together, it will not only be by police co-operation and international treaties. "We have to pay attention to what the terrorists say to the people – the injustice – because people can say, ‘Why are they treating us this way?’"
Across Europe, tensions remains over how different states balance the aggressive short-term pursuit of terrorists with the longer-term strategy of preventing radicalisation and long term recruitment. A year after Madrid, that task looks harder rather than easier.
April 22, 2005
Vatican condemns Spain gay bill
The Vatican, under the new leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, has condemned a Spanish government bill allowing marriage between homosexuals.
The bill, passed by parliament’s Socialist-dominated lower house, also allows gay couples to adopt. A senior Vatican official described the bill – which is likely to become law within a few months – as iniquitous. He said Roman Catholic officials should be prepared to lose their jobs rather than co-operate with the law. The bill would make Spain the first European country to allow homosexual people to marry and adopt children. Only Belgium and the Netherlands allow same-sex marriages. It is also a dramatic step in the rapid secularisation of what was once one of the most devoutly Roman Catholic countries in Europe.
The head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, denounced the legislation as profoundly iniquitous.
Interviewed in the Italian newspaper, Corriere de la Sera, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo said the Church was making an urgent call for freedom of conscience for Roman Catholics and appealing to them to resist the law. He said every profession linked with implementing homosexual marriages should oppose it, even if it meant losing their jobs. The cardinal insisted that just because something was made law it did not make it right.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took office a year ago making it clear he intended to remove what he called the church’s undeniable advantages and make Spain a secular state. There are likely to be further tensions with Pope Benedict XVI. Mr Zapatero has made it clear that he intends to streamline divorce law and even to relax the conditions placed on abortion.
April 21, 2005
Spain paves way for gay marriage
Spain’s lower house of parliament has approved the right of homosexual couples to marry and adopt children.
The government-backed bill now passes to the Senate, where it is expected to get final approval in the coming weeks.
The opposition centre-right Popular Party voted against, saying that gay relationships fall outside the traditional institution of marriage.
Religious groups, including Roman Catholic bishops, Jews and protestant bodies also expressed their opposition. Correspondents say the law will worsen relations between the Socialist government and the Roman Catholic Church. Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took office in April 2004, intending to remove what he called the Church’s undeniable advantages and create a secular state with streamlined divorce and relaxations in abortion law. Under the proposed bill, Spanish 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 sex." Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar argued that the bill overcomes "the barriers of discrimination, many of them with deep historical or primitive roots, which affect rights and freedoms and, in a specific way, the extension of free choice in the search for happiness, an unwritten basic right". If the new Pope wants to say something about it, I’m prepared to respect whatever he says, he can count on my respect for him
The vote in parliament was passed by 183 votes, with 136 against and six abstentions. Members of gay and lesbian groups in the public gallery cheered and clapped when the result was read out. If the bill is approved by the Senate as expected, it will make Spain the third EU country to authorise gay marriages after Belgium and the Netherlands.
The Spanish Bishops Conference, which has opposed the bill from its conception, says it goes "against the common good" and that it was "unfair that real marriage should be treated the same as the union of persons of the same sex". Mr Zapatero, before the vote, was asked how he felt the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI might greet the news. "If the new Pope wants to say something about it, I’m prepared to respect whatever he says, he can count on my respect for him," he said, according to the Associated Press news agency.
"One of the guarantees of democracy is the freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and freedom to carry out a political project with the citizens’ vote."
Spain gets tough on mayors who veto gay weddings
by Isambard Wilkinson in Madrid
Spanish socialists faced a new showdown with the Vatican yesterday after they pledged to crack down on rebel mayors who refuse to allow homosexuals to marry. Emboldened by support from a senior cardinal, centre-Right mayors have threatened to defy a law sponsored by the socialist government allowing civil marriage between gays.
But a senior government figure yesterday insisted that public officials "must apply the laws that government proposes and parliament approves". Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the head of the Pontifical Council on the Family, denounced the legislation last week as "iniquitous" and called on civil servants not to perform homosexual wedding ceremonies even if it meant losing their jobs.
The law, which also allows homosexuals to adopt children, was forced through parliament by the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and has presented Pope Benedict XVI with the first major challenge of his papacy. The Vatican’s stand, and the hardline reputation of the new Pope, has encouraged opponents of gay marriage to stand firm against the measure.
The Bishop of Castellon, Juan Antonio Reig Pla, has even called for "civil disobedience" adding that "one has to obey God before man otherwise it will lead to a totalitarian state" " If obeying the law comes before conscience, this leads to Auschwitz," said the Archbishop of Barcelona, Ricard Maria Carles.
Mayors from the centre-Right People’s Party (PP) have already announced their decision to refuse to carry out homosexual marriages and they have been joined in their defiance by some local socialist leaders. Some mayors have, however, put themselves beyond the pale with their extreme rhetoric. The PP is to expel Lluis Fernando Caldentey, the mayor of Pontons in Catalonia, after he called gay marriage immoral and homosexuals "defective".
He said: "I have never seen two male dogs trying to make love, it is not natural." Earlier this year the late Pope John Paul II criticised such government initiatives as making divorce and abortion easier, permitting stem cell research and reforming state funding of the Catholic Church. Attempting to calm the row, the head of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, called his party members to order and listed 16 of his most influential mayors who will comply with the law on homosexual marriage. But Mr Rajoy added: "There was no reason and nobody understands why Spain had to put itself at the vanguard in these matters. I don’t think that anybody, and I am talking about the adoption of children by homosexuals, has stopped to think about the children’s interests." Although 80 per cent of Spaniards describe themselves as Catholic opinion polls show that most support homosexual marriage.
Barcelona–Celebrating the Art of Living (Travel Story)
by Rich Rubin
I could tell you over and over that Spain’s second-biggest city is fabulous, but you’ll still be surprised and delighted when you get there as this first-rate European destination rivals any must-do city on the continent. Walk down lovely, tree-lined Passeig de Gracia past elegant shops housed in serene, nineteenth century buildings. You’ll suddenly come across Casa BatIlo, one of the phantasmagoric works by Antoni Gaudi. Walk into an unassuming little restaurant and before long you’ll be experiencing course after course of some of Europe’s best food.
Spain, and Barcelona in particular, are currently at the apex of the foodie firmament. Stroll down La Rambla, the famous mile-long street that runs down the edge of the Barri Gotic (old town). That somber roadside mime statue will suddenly spring to life as a tourist drops a few coins in a tin; a lucky passerby might catch the "statue" winking at him before sidling back into immobility. This is just a part of Barcelona: playful, sexy, surprising, and guaranteed to please, in a setting that stretches from the Mediterranean to the hills of Cataluna. The people here are more Catalan than Spanish. Even the signs are in Catalan. From the winding cobblestone streets of the Barri Gotic to the neatly laid-out avenues of the Eixample (locally dubbed the "Gayxample"), the city packs in enough sights to keep you busy for days.
" Every year gay life gets better," says proprietor Connie of Complices Bookstore, the city’s original gay/lesbian bookstore, "People can live here with no problem." I remark that many young people seem almost unaware that there was a time of severe repression. "Let’s hope," notes Connie wryly, "they don’t have to learn about it from experience." Her store is a wonderful and welcoming spot and there’s an amazing amount of gay literature packed onto two floors (with a good English section downstairs). You can pick up anything you need here: gay maps, information, and free local magazines.
Before you head there, however, take the most important step toward enjoying gay Barcelona: check into Hotel Axel, a gay hotel at the heart of the Eixample. Minimalist with a high comfort factor, the walls of the guestrooms are adorned by illuminated close-ups of sexy torsos, and close-ups of muscled bodies are even found on the in-room safes. They call themselves a three-star hotel but the rooms have a high-design, four-star appeal, and the staff is a five-star wonder. Niall and Victor at the front desk make dinner reservations, advise on the nightlife scene, and offer inside tips about Barcelona sights. Service is the reason the Axel has been so phenomenally successful and why they’re in the process of adding a new wing of rooms. Being perfectly located in the city’s gay section, guests here have easy access to at least a dozen bars and many wonderful restaurants, but the best place to begin your evening is in the Axel’s lounge. Order a vodka martini and start up a conversation with the boy/girl next to you, or simply watch the eclectic array of people as they make their entrance into the hotel down the marble stairs into the lobby. It’s as close as you’re likely to get to a gay "mini-grand hotel" anywhere in the world.
After cocktails, enjoy dinner at Castro, the city’s gay restaurant. Okay, it looks a little like an S/M dream (or nightmare) when you walk in: pillars encircled by chains; photos of silverware in bondage or plates holding nuts and bolts; gray walls; low-hanging, industrial light fixtures, but, surprise, the food is actually good. On the Saturday night I dine there, there’s a great mix of gay men, lesbians, and friendly straights of all ages. When I arrived at 9 P.M. (opening time), the place was empty, of course, but by 10:30 it’s packed. Please note that Barcelona is a late night city. Many people don’t eat dinner until after 10 P.M. and most of the bars don’t even begin to see a crowd until midnight.
One exception: longtime favorite Punto BCN, a popular "first drink" spot, jam-packed even at the unthinkably early hour of 9:30. It’s an open, bright, and airy place with a long wood bar and an amiable, thirty-plus crowd. It’s run by the Arena folks who also have several discos in the city, including the popular women’s club Sala Diana/Aire. When I visit, there’s a wide variety of guests: a man with shaved head and three earrings strokes the leg of a young, bearded guy; a woman with shockingly blond hair sits with a shockingly handsome young man; two pleasant fifty-somethings open the door with a big smile for me on my way out. It seems more friendly than cruisy, a spot to meet a couple of pals before heading out on a nightlife prowl, and its bright vibrancy is refreshing.
Nearby, check out Fenix, a small comfy place with marble floors, a long bar, and a row of tables set against a wall illuminated by a row of tea lights. Cozy, low-key, and unpretentious, Sweet Cafe, as its name indicates, is a stylish cafe/bar with couches for people to lounge on, a long bar, bright red walls, and–true to eccentric Barcelona stylea display of armchairs overlooking the scene from a platform high above. Its spaciousness is typical of what I like about many of Barcelona’s bars, the wide-open and unconfined feel.
Next stop is Dietrich, with its gilt pillars, potted palms, red candIes on black tables, and (naturally) an oil painting of the great Marlene herself. Nearby is the fashionable Ambar, with orange/gray walls, draped fabric, comfortable chairs and couches, and a hip young crowd. For lesbian visitors to the Eixample, Mi Madre is a cozy neighborhood bar popular with women. Everything I’ve just mentioned, by the way, lies within a radius of about three blocks.
The dance scene, however, is a little less centralized, with the popular spots Metro and Salvation, as well as the various Arena-run clubs being scattered throughout the city. Need more choices? There are at least two dozen other spots to choose from, including the stylish lesbian bar D-Mer and a host of gay-friendly places. If there’s one thing they know how to do here, it’s party.
This thrillingly exhausting metropolis is like many cities in one, and walking around is like an excursion through centuries of history, conveniently delineated by fairly distinct borders. I begin my explorations in Barri Gotic with its cobblestone streets and mazelike alleyways leading through low-slung arches, I could be back in the thirteenth century. I walk by the Cathedral with its flourishing gardens and Gothic spires.
I twine through the winding streets of the old Jewish quarter. I walk down La Rambla, which is really many streets in one, changing character constantly as it makes its way from city center to sea. On Rambla de les Flors, I marvel at the vibrant floral displays that give this section its name; a few steps beyond, I’m assaulted by the chirps of a thousand caged birds and realize I’ve arrived at the Rambla dels Estudis, nicknamed Rambla dels Ocells ("of the birds").
Human statues line the boulevard, from a gorgeous young man with a curly mop of hair to a female angel in white. Arriving at Playa Boqueria, I stand under an amazing building,. an 1883 wonder with Chinese-themed murals and a huge dragon hanging off the side. I’m so taken by it I hardly notice that right below me the pavement stones are swirls of white and black with geometric shapes of red, blue, and yellow. This astonishing work of art was created by Barcelona native Joan Mira.
The eccentricity and excitement of this city is gloriously represented by the three most famous artists connected to Barcelona: Miro, Picasso, and Dali. Each has a major museum in or near the city devoted to his work. At the Picasso Museum, in E1 Born district (more on that area later), a vast collection of the artist’s works, dating to his time in Barcelona, goes far beyond the familiar cubism. Admiring a moving portrait of a girl taking her first communion, or a charming landscape of the countryside near Barcelona, you might not even realize, if you weren’t in his eponymous museum, that you were looking at a Picasso.
If Mira is more your style, take a ride up to Montjuic, the hillside park that’s reachable by funicular, to the Catalonian National Museum of Art and the Fundaci6 Joan Mir6 which possess probably the best collection in the world of this quirky and joyful artist’s work. Dali fans head to nearby Figueres for his museum. It’s well worth the day trip to see the Teatre Museu Dali (built by the artist) and to spend the afternoon experiencing not only the paintings but the building itself, with its surrealistic holograms, curving lenses, wild furniture, and mirror effects.
If these three are the big-name artists to whom the city lays claim, its soul lies in the works of Antoni Gaudi, the city’s patron saint of architectural eccentricity. If there’s anyone way to understand Barcelona (and any singular reason to visit), it’s to look at the work of this early twentieth century artist whose buildings are decades ahead of their time. Resting comfortably right beside "normal" buildings, these psychedelic visions in stone have an implacable outlandishness that attract millions of visitors each year.
I remember my first encounter with Gaud!: stumbling across Casa Mila (or La Pedrera as it’s better-known) on an Eixample boulevard, I said to myself, "Now this is my type of building!" Undulating like the sea down the block, its waves of stone capped by a cornucopia of flourishes, it does more than enliven the street-it transforms it. Down Passeig de Gracia from La Pedrera lies the equally-stunning Casa BatU6 with an evanescent dragon perched on its roof, next to odd, bone-like balconies. I wander up twisting stairways, past lizard-texture walls, looking out windows outlined in squares and circles, to the roof, a fantasia of mosaic towers crowned by little rosettes.
This cornucopia of artistic expression is only a prelude to my favorite spot in Barcelona: Park Giiell, a spectacularly outlandish park Gaud! designed for an otherwise fairly nondescript part of town. Approaching the checkerboard blue and white spire of one of the two entrance towers, I climb the grand double staircase, bordered by mosaic-covered square "fingers," past the famous dragon fountain, in swirls of navy, azure, orange, yellow, and green. Up the stairs and through a "cave" of pillars rising from white cracked tile bases I enter the central "plaza," a wide-open area surrounded by undulating stone benches decorated with yet more mosaics while providing visitors one of the best views in all of Barcelona. Surrounded by blue, pink, lime, taupe, and orange squiggles, flowers, dots, and stars, I look past the two crazy entrance towers and there’s the city, with the Mediterranean in the distance.
Near the Rambla, you can walk by Palau Giiell, topped by a carefree row of whimsical cones (currently closed for renovation), but the piece de resistance of Barcelona is Gaudi’s great unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. This elaborately-carved church with coiled and bulbous spires capped by flower-like symbols is the eighth wonder of the world. Presently, there’s major construction going on as they add an entire section-four original towers are in the process of becoming eighteen. While it’s annoying to tourists (construction is likely to last for many years), it’s fascinating to watch as the vision of the great artist slowly comes to life. Gaudi, who saw the Sagrada Familia as an ongoing process rather than a finished work, spent over forty years working on it himself. As Gaudi said: "The Temple grows slowly, but this has always been the case with everything destined to have a long life."
You wouldn’t want the city to remain static; I know Gaudi wouldn’t. In keeping with that spirit, I head to EI Born, an area that was kind of seedy just five years ago but has become one of the hippest parts of town. Located next door to the Barri Gotic, this area has a charm and coherence that the Barri Gotic lacks. I love wandering down the beautiful little streets (Barcelona’s narrowest street, Carrer des Mosques, is here); Passeig del Born is also a lovely one, with its tree-lined pedestrian median and arcing sculpture in tribute to those who fought for Catalonia’s freedom in the 1713-14 siege of Barcelona. The memorial is in a beautiful little plaza, surrounded by houses with greenery spilling off their terraces and the occasional balcony birdcage full of chirpers.
Many of the nearby streets have a similarly evocative quality: often named after occupations, they show that this was once a center of commerce, a fact underlined by the gorgeous Born Market, currently being restored. The district has also undergone a commercial renaissance: it’s now the home to some of the most interesting shops and boutiques of Barcelona, and I find everything from galleries and designer clothing to ceramics, chocolates, and fab skin care products from Greece. The Picasso Museum is here, as is the wonderful Textile Museum (though I’ve heard it’s moving) where I admire centuries of fabric and a stunning collection of gowns from humongously-bustled Victorian frocks to sleek 1920’s nightgowns. There’s also the fabulously quirky Chocolate Museum with its collection of fantastically-wrought chocolate sculptures (a Barcelona Easter tradition). You’ll see Ben Hur in a horse-drawn chariot, a white chocolate gorilla, and several of Gaudi’s buildings recreated in all their hallucinatory detail. Everything is so intricately-done that at first you don’t realize you’re looking at a sculpture made of chocolate.
Speaking of food art: the area’s also home to some amazing restaurants. In Santa Maria, chef Paco Guzman dishes up a tapas-only array that spans the globe from Catalunya to Asia and back. I do the degustation menu, twelve little courses that give you an idea of the breadth of his talents. Sushi has a surprising, crunchy center of deep-fried langoustine; a Catalan stew of garbanzo beans is transformed by scallops, carrots, and miso/curry sauce. The croquette that oozes with cheese is something you’ll find all over town, but the greens covered in a sweet tomato jam are Paco’s own addition. Of course, you can just share a few tapas and a glass of cava (Spain’s version of champagne) in this comfy spot; as the amiable Guzman stresses, "We’re here to do anything you want."
More wonders await down the street at the phenomenal Comer~ 24. Chef Carles Abelian gives new life to the concept of the tapa, from al dente asparagus with parmesan and Mandarin mousse to little squares of salmon tartare topped with salmon roe and presented with a thin rectangle of yogurt scented with vanilla. I order the "festival" and sit back as ten little dishes, and then five desserts, come my way, each with a detailed description by the sweet and helpful staff: wild mushrooms with an egg foam; lemon/perch ceviche with daikon and pomegranate seeds; truffles and cepes in filo. Inventive, diverse, and beautifully presented, it’s among the great meals I’ve had in all my travels.
Espai Sucre ("sugar space") has its own tasting menus–of desserts! There are now a few main dishes available, but basically it’s a dessert restaurant, and you can do a three or five-course sample. Even a non-dessert person like myself is astounded at the originality: lychee soup with grated apples and celery, a mound of cider ice cream and a thin eucalyptus-scented caramel; sweet/tart yogurt cake, with puckeringly wonderful rhubarb ice cream atop a sweet rhubarb confiture and a razor-thin crust of white chocolate; thick, bittersweet chocolate pudding with thin chocolate wafers, sweeter chocolate swirled in, and spice ice cream completing the tableau. Vow to do an extra hundred hours at the gym if you must, but don’t miss this place. Remarkably, these three beauties are within a block of each other, but you’ll find delights all over town. In the Eixample, I love the friendIy people and excellent food at Porquesi (don’t miss their wonderful salmon korma).
Also in this area is Casa Calvet, notable because it’s inside a Gaudi-designed building. While most places like this would tend to be just tourist traps, this is actually one of Barcelona’s most highly-regarded restaurants (the chef, no doubt, gets a lot of inspiration from Gaudi’s creativity). In Barri Gotic, I’m a big fan of Taxidermista (the name refers to this imaginative restaurant’s former use), right on pretty little Pla9a Reial; if you want a prime view with your (pricey but wonderful) dinner, Torre d’ Alta Mar in the St. Sebastian Tower overlooking the water can’t be beat.
Itry to work off some of my gluttony by taking a long stroll from harbor to waterfront promenade. Here in the area known as Barceloneta, the harbor bobs with boats, the houses are closely-packed on the back streets, and the beach is lined with little seafood restaurants (Agua is the trendiest).
As I gaze out at the Mediterranean past a stretch of beach, I think: am I still in the same city? Which is my challenge in writing about Barcelona: I could describe it for you, but first I’d have to decide which Barcelona I’m going to describe. Do I want to tell you about the neatly laid-out streets and wild Modernist architecture ofthe Eixample? The twisty little lanes ofBarri Gotic and EI Born? The grand waterside promenade? The otherworldly realms of Parc Giiell, rising like a hallucinatory vision?
Barcelona is all of these, and much more. It’s a big, sprawling, unwieldy city (a good public transit system helps you see it all) and if you ride the subway, which I do a lot, you’ll emerge from the underground to find you’re in a place that feels utterly different from the one you just left. There are the famous streets-La Rambla, Passeig de Gracia-and then there are the lesser-known but equally-evocative ones, such as Passeig del Born. There are famous museums, and then there are a dozen quirky little spots devoted to such themes as perfume, shoes, and funeral carriages. Barcelona takes time and energy, but the vigorous and the intrepid will become instant devotees and lifelong partisans.
What’s interesting is that each visitor seems to fall in love with a different aspect of Barcelona. Some are enraptured with the glorious creations of Gaudi, or seduced by the works of art of Dali and Miro. Other people are devoted to the Catalan people and their culture, while the never-ending nightlife is a siren call for many more individuals. My advice: pack a spirit of adventurousness and a capacity for surprise as Barcelona is guaranteed to astonish you. It’s just that kind of city. .
When calling from the U.S., Dial 011-34-93 before all numbers.
= Hotel Axel, Aribau 33. Tel: 323-9393. Doubles $167-$338. Our choice for gay atmosphere, a helpful staff, and excellent location. www.hotelaxel.com
=Balmes, Mallorca 216. Tel: 451-1914. Doubles $100-$174. The Claris’ less regal sister, with duplex rooms, great art, and lovely gardens that make you forget you’re in the heart of the city. www.derbyhotels.es
=Hotel Claris, Pau Claris 150. Tel: 487-6262. Doubles $213-$468. A great Eixample location, and stylishly modern, luxurious rooms (some duplex suites cover two stories) in a converted nineteenth-century palace. www.derbyhotels.es
=Omm, Rosell6n 265. Tel: 445-4000. Doubles $261$468. A trendy favorite, the first hotel of the T ragaluz restaurant group has 59 well-appointed rooms (and a terrace overlooking La Pedrera). Its restaurant, Moo, is a hot spot. www.hotelomm.es
=Arribau 137. Tel: 439-6414.
=Casa Calvet, Casp 48. Tel: 412-4012.
=Castro, Casanova 85. Tel: 323-6784.
=Porquesi, Comte Borrell 122. Tel: 454-8245.
Bani Gotic, Taxidermista, PlaQa Reial8. Tel: 412-4536.
=Comerc;: 24, Comerc;: 24. Tel: 319-2102.
=Espai Sucre, Princesa 53. Tel: 268-1630.
=Santa Maria, Comerc;: 17. Tel: 315-1227.
=Agua, Passeig Maritim 30. Tel: 225-1272.
=Torre d’Alta Mar, Passeig Joan de Borb6 88. Tel: 221-0007
=Ambar, Casanova 71. Tel: 451-5994.
=Arena Clubs (various locations) www.arenadisco.com
=D-Mer, Plat613. Tel: 201-6207.
=Dietrich, Consell de Cent 255. Tel: 451-7707.
=Fenix, Casanova 64. Tel: 323-6607.
=Metro, Sepulveda 185. Tel: 323-5227.
=Mi Madre, Consell de Cent 223.
=Punto BCN, Muntaner 63. Tel: 453-6123.
=Sala Diana/Aire, Valencia 236. Tel: 451-8462.
=Salvation, Ronda Sant Pierre 19-21. Tel: 318-0686.
=Sweet Cafe, Casanova 75.
=Casa Batile, Passeig de Gracia 43. Tel: 488-0666.
=Cathedral, Plac;:a de la Seu. Tel: 315-1554.
=Chocolate Museum, Comerc;: 36. Tel: 268-7878.
=Fundacie Joan Mire, Montjurc. Tel: 329-1908. www.bcn.fjmiro.es
=La Pedrera (Casa Mila ), Provenc;:a 261-265. Tel: 484-5995.
=Park Guell, Olot. Tel: 213-0488.
=Picasso Museum, Montcada 19. Tel: 319-6310. www.museupicasso.bcn.es
=Teatre Museu Dali, Plac;:a Gala-Salvador Dal[, Figueres. Tel: 011-34-97-677-500. www.salvador-dali.org/eng
=Textile Museum, Montcada 12-14. Tel: 319-7603.
=Lambda, the main gay organization is Casal Verdaguer I Callis 10. Tel: 319-5550. www.lambdaweb.org
=For a listing of gay accommodations, bars, restaurants, saunas, etc. and links to their websites visit www.gaybarcelona.com
=A good spot for information, gay maps, and helpful advice is Cemplices Bookstore, Cervantes 2. Tel: 412-7283. http://personaI1.iddeo.es/complices
=Also worth a visit is the gay bookstore/cafe Antinous, Josep Anselm Clave 6. Tel: 301-9070. www.antinouslibros.com
=For general information on Barcelona, contact Turisme de Barcelona, Plac;:a de Catalunya 17. Tel: 285-3834. www.barcelonaturisme.com.
= You can get a Barcelona Card there, which gives you unlimited travel on buses and subways as well as free or discounted admission to many attractions.
=For tourist info visit the Tourist Board of Spain’s website at www.tourspain.es
Spain Approves Gay Marriage, Adoption
Days after the election of a staunchly conservative new pope, predominantly Roman Catholic Spain is set to allow homosexuals to marry and adopt children. Spanish deputies on Thursday approved a government bill allowing homosexuals to marry and adopt children, which if endorsed by the Senate will make it the second European country to do so. A total of 183 deputies in the Socialist-dominated lower house of parliament voted in favor of the government bill allowing homosexuals to marry and adopt children. 136 were against and six abstained.
The draft legislation, which is expected to take effect in a few months’ time pending widely anticipated endorsement by the Senate, gives the same rights and conditions to all legally married couples "be the parties of the same sex or of different sex." Spain would then become the second European country to allow both gay marriages and adoption of children by gay couples. The Netherlands was the first. Belgium allow same-sex marriages but not adoption.
" Another world is possible"
" Spain is showing that another world is possible," said Socialist party (PSOE) deputy Pedro Zerolo, who has often expressed the wish to become the first gay person to inaugurate the right to marriage in Spain. "The country doesn’t just export hams but also ideas and models for society." The draft legislation amends the Spanish Civil Code to insert the following sentence: "Marriage will meet the same conditions and will have the same effects be the parties of the same sex or of different sex."
Prior to the vote, Socialist Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar defended the government bill, arguing that it "breaks down the barriers of discrimination which affect the rights and freedoms and notably free choice in the quest for happiness, a fundamental, unwritten right." The vote was greeted with applause and howls of joy by gay rights activists inside the chamber. They included a gay male couple who brandished a placard saying "Habemus Matrimonium" (‘We have a marriage,’ in Latin), a reference to "Habemus papam," the words used by the Catholic Church to announce the election of a new pope.
Vote slammed by Catholics, other faiths
However the vote was immediately condemned by Spain’s powerful Roman Catholic bishops, who called the bill "radically unjust and harmful to the common good." The bill has infuriated the Catholic Church, which in December branded homosexual behavior "intrinsically bad."
" The higher interest of children requires that they not be fabricated in laboratories nor adopted by marriages of same-sex people," the bishops said in their statement Thursday. On the eve of the vote, representatives of Spain’s major religious faiths, except Islam, had unveiled a joint statement signaling their strong opposition to gay marriage. Addressed to the Spanish parliament, it was signed by the Spanish (Catholic) Episcopal conference, the federation of Jewish communities, the federation of evangelical religious groups and a senior Orthodox Church representative.
" Monogamous heterosexual marriage is part of Judeo-Christian tradition and other religious faiths, and in its basic structure was and remains a fundamental institution in the history of societies of our cultural environment," it said. " Any change of the institution of marriage requires deep reflection and a vast dialogue and social consensus," it added. Signatories of the statement demanded that the structure of marriage be left unchanged.
" People sleep with who they want"
The Socialist-dominated parliament voted last November to legalize gay marriages from 2005 and give gay couples the right to adopt children. The Spanish deputies also adopted Thursday a reform of divorce laws which regulates the shared custody of children and accelerates the divorce process, allowing it to be completed in three months in cases of mutual consent. The late Pope John Paul II in January had condemned as a "permissive morality" initiatives taken by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s (photo) government on gay marriage, divorce and the limitation of religious teaching in public schools.
But the only openly practising Catholic in the Zapatero cabinet, Defense Minister Jose Bono, said the church had more important things to worry about than gay marriage. " People sleep with who they want," he said. "Christ would today be more concerned about the 25,000 children who die each day from hunger in the world and by the deadly wars and breaches of international law."
Author DW staff / AFP (sp) http://www.dw-world.de
May 11, 2005
Spain’s PM Tells Catholic Church To Keep Out Of Gay Marriage Debate
by Malcolm Thornberry
Madrid – The Roman Catholic Church has called on the Spanish king to refuse to sign legislation allowing same-sex marriage.
The bill has passed Spain’s lower house and is now before the Senate. (story) It is expected to be passed this summer.
The Conferencia Espiscopal, the Spanish Bishops’ Organization, tells the El Mundo newspaper that they wrote to King Juan Carlos last Friday calling on him to issue a clear and incisive statement opposing the legislation.
But, it is unlikely the King will take any action on the letter. Spain is a constitutional monarchy and the king is not permitted to hold up legislation, and as in Britain, the monarchy does not enter public debate on political issues. In his "state of the nation" address to Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero lashed out at the Church. " I will never understand those who proclaim love as the foundation of life, while denying so radically protection, understanding and affection to our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, our colleagues," Zapatero told parliament.
" What kind of love is this that excludes those who experience their sexuality in a different way?" he said. The Church has been involved in a lengthy dispute with Zapatero’s Socialist government over the gay marriage bill. Last year, shortly after Zapatero announced he would bring in the legislation, he was summoned to Rome for a lecture by Pope John Paul. Nevertheless, Zapatero and his government refused to bow under the pressure. The attacks have continued under Pope Benedict. The Pope, speaking through Cardinal Alfonso Lopes Trujill, head of the Pontifical Council on the Family, said Roman Catholics should be prepared to lose their jobs rather than co-operate with the law. In an opinion poll on the issue carried out by the government-run Centre for Sociological Investigations last June, 66 per cent of Spaniards favoured legalizing gay marriage, while 26 per cent were opposed.
Homosexuality was banned during Franco’s 1939-1975 dictatorship. Spain’s liberal 1978 constitution outlawed sexual discrimination and homosexuality was decriminalized shortly afterwards. Same-sex marriage is legal in Holland and Belgium. Most other European Union countries have some provision for recognizing those in committed same-sex relationships. In December Britain will open its registry for Civil Unions. In North America most of Canada has legalized same-sex marriage and a bill to expand that throughout the country is currently before Parliament. Massachusetts is the only US state to legalize same-sex marriage, although Civil Unions are legal in Vermont and Connecticut, and several other states including California have domestic partner registries.
June 25, 2005
Madrid takes pride in its `gaybourhood’–Spaniards have much to celebrate these days
A week from today, the Madrid Orgullo floats will be snaking down the streets of Spain’s capital city, bedecked with giant pink feathers and dancing shirtless men in white cowboy hats. Up to a million spectators will swarm the streets and fill Plaza Chueca, the nucleus of Madrid’s gaybourhood. There’ll be drag queens in leopard skin and sequined gowns. The ground will vibrate with danceable beats, while whistles, shouts, and lively Castilian chatter fill the air. All night the bars will be packed while the aromas of cigarette smoke, cologne, sweat, and fresh tapas waft out the doors. When dawn creeps over the rooftops, the Pride celebrations will be far from over.
Spaniards have so much to celebrate these days, so many places to go, and, because of their diminished need for sleep, so much time. What to celebrate? Earlier this year, the government began the passage of its same-sex marriage bill. This Catholic country, now being called the "Netherlands of the South" is vying with Canada to be the third in the world, after Holland and Belgium, to allow full-on matrimony. There is some resistance from bishops, mayors, and senators, but, according to a recent Instituto Opina poll, 62 per cent of Spaniards support the move.
Richard Hastings, a Toronto flamenco dancer, felt the love during his last visit. " I would not say that I encountered any homophobia, conscious or unconscious. I felt very free walking, even outside of Chueca. You hear about this macho culture and then you go to Spain and people are so open-minded. Ever since Franco, Spain just jumped out of the closet and said, `We’re here and we’re not going away.’"
So, where do you go? Madrid has the most resources, but there are scenes in Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Malaga, Ibiza, and Sitges as well. For Madrid, a recent issue of Zero Guia lists about a hundred gay and lesbian cafés and bars, 75 restaurants, 15 saunas, 50 discos and 60 clothing stores. Many of these, as well as a nudist bar and some tapaterias, can be found near the Chueca metro station. Here, shopping focuses on shoes, designer underwear, and literature. The long-running Berkana bookstore also sells gifts, adult toys, clothing, coffee and pastries.
The afternoon siesta may put a dent in your shopping, but you’ll benefit from a long nap, because late nights don’t just happen on Pride weekend. Dinner begins around 9 p.m., (hypoglycemics beware), and lasts till midnight. Bars fill up around 1 or 2 a.m., dance clubs peak around three, and keep thumping till dawn. Bars are liveliest at the beginning of the month, when newly-issued paycheques burn holes in local pockets. Cover charges usually include the first drink, so you can start with a tapas bar, then, dance to a couple of tunes at "Black and White," sip cocktails at "Rick’s," meet the local lesbians at "Truco" and dance with their ex-girlfriends at "Escape." From there, it’s either to bed, to the coffee shop, or to work, where Spaniards function remarkably well until their next siesta.
Julia Steinecke is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
July 3, 2005
Spanish Marriage Law to Go Into Effect–Gay Couples Will Be Able to Wed, Adopt
Madrid – The law legalizing gay marriage in Spain has cleared its last bureaucratic formality — being published in an official government registry — and will take effect on Sunday. 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 transsexuals. The gay marriage law, passed Thursday by the lower house of parliament, was published Saturday in the gazette, the Boletin Oficial del Estado, which records all government decisions in Spain. The document specified that the new law would go into effect Sunday. The law was signed by King Juan Carlos and 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 gay men 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 that of heterosexual couples. Spain is the third country in the world to grant full recognition to gay marriage. The others are the Netherlands and Belgium. Canada is expected to enact similar legislation later this month. Several European countries and a few U.S. states recognize civil unions among same-sex couples, but this falls short of treating them like married couples. Fierce criticism of the law from the Catholic Church continued, with the head of the Spanish Bishops Conference, Bishop Ricardo Blazquez, branding the measure unconstitutional.
July 4, 2005
Spanish Premier Zapatero’s Remarkable Gay Marriage Speech—in favor of full equality for those with same-sex hearts
When the Spanish parliament yesterday took its historic vote legalizing both gay marriage and adoption of children by gay couples, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero–who put the full prestige of his office and party behind passage of the gay human rights legislation–made probably the most remarkable speech in favor of full equality for those with same-sex hearts ever delivered by a head of government anywhere, in which he quoted two of the most illustrious gay poets in history. Here are excerpts from Zapatero’s speech:
"We are not legislating, honorable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and, our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members. "Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have, been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty.
"It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone’s triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty. Their victory makes all of us (even those who oppose the law) better people, it makes our society better. Honorable members, There is no damage to marriage or to the concept of family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. To the contrary, what happens is this class of Spanish citizens get the potential to organize their lives with the rights and privileges of marriage and family. There is no danger to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law enhances and respects marriage.
"Today, conscious that some people and institutions are in a profound disagreement with this change in our civil law, I wish to express that, like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will generate no evil, that its only consequence will be the avoiding of senseless suffering of decent human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.
"With the approval of this Bill, our country takes another step in the path of liberty and tolerance that was begun by the democratic change of government. Our children will look at us incredulously if we tell them that many years ago, our mothers had less rights than our fathers, or if we tell them that people had to stay married against their will even though they were unable to share their lives. Today we can offer them a beautiful lesson: every right gained, each access to liberty has been the result of the struggle and sacrifice of many people that deserve our recognition and praise.
"Today we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the unhappiness and humiliation of some of our citizens. Today, for many of our countrymen, comes the day predicted by C.P. Kavafy (the great Greek/Egyptian gay poet) one century ago: ‘Later ’twas said of the most perfect society/someone else, made like me/certainly will come out and act freely.’ "
Thanks to valiant gay journalist Rex Wockner for providing this translation.The New York Times Company
by Renwick McLean
Madrid – When Ramón Vizcaíno and Luis Ibarcena tried to apply for a marriage license here two months ago, they caused a minor scandal. Confusing news reports had led them to believe that Spain had legalized gay marriage, they said, when, in fact, it had only passed a preliminary vote in Parliament. "The people there were very surprised to see two men asking about marriage," said Mr. Vizcaíno, a 38-year-old security guard. "They looked at us like we were crazy."
But on Monday, the baffled faces and dismissive tones gave way to smiles and handshakes, as the men became one of the first gay couples to seek government authorization to wed under Spain’s new marriage law, which took effect on Sunday. "This means we are no longer second-class citizens," Mr. Vizcaíno said in an interview Monday. "We have always had the same obligations as other citizens. We deserve the same rights, too."
The lines inside the Madrid Civil Registry, where capital residents apply for marriage licenses, swelled with gay and lesbian couples for the first time on Monday, four days after Parliament passed a law giving same-sex couples across Spain the right to marry and to adopt children. The vote makes Spain the first nation to remove all legal distinctions between same-sex and heterosexual unions, say advocates for marriage rights for gay couples. Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands have also legalized gay marriage, but only Canada’s laws, which do not yet apply to all of the country, contain language as liberal as Spain’s.
Near the close of business on Monday, Boti G. Rodrigo, an official at the registry, said that only four gay couples had formally applied for marriage licenses but that many more had come seeking information about the process. "We expect that the number of same-sex couples will be disproportionately high for weeks, if not months to come," she said. Ms. Rodrigo said that most of the couples requesting information on Monday had been together for years. Parliament’s decision to legalize gay marriage has provoked tremendous animosity among religious conservatives in Spain, a predominantly Roman Catholic country.
In a speech before Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Monday, the archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, condemned the law, saying it was evidence of a society in which "not only is faith denied, but also human reason itself." Ricardo Blázquez, the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, also denounced the law on Monday, saying at a news conference near Madrid that it "throws moral and human order into confusion."
Many of the gay couples interviewed on Monday said they had grown up in Catholic households but were no longer practicing Catholics, in part because of the church’s opposition to gay marriage. But Mr. Ibarcena, 32, the partner of Mr. Vizcaíno and also a security guard, said he still attended church regularly. "I stand up and challenge them when they say things that are anti-gay," he said. "I haven’t given up on them yet."
July 06, 2005
Spain’s gay marriage law hits first snag–foreigners exempt
by Daniel Woolls, Madrid
Spain’s new gay marriage law hit its first snag Wednesday as a court said a Spanish man can’t wed his Indian partner because India does not allow same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia cited an article in the Spanish civil code which says foreign residents seeking to wed Spaniards are bound by the laws of the country where they have citizenship. The Indian man is resident of Spain but holds an Indian passport.
The dispute erupted Tuesday, six days after Spain’s parliament made this country the third in the world to legalize gay marriage. The others are Netherlands and Belgium. A decision in Canada is pending until later this month. The court’s comments – released in a statement prompted by media inquiries, not in a formal ruling – suggest that for the time being at least, gay Spaniards seeking to marry foreigners can only do so with people from the Netherlands and Belgium. The Spanish Justice Ministry did not return calls seeking comment.
The Indian man, identified in news reports as Vipul Dutt, 33, went to a judge in the Barcelona-area village of Canet de Mar with his partner, 45-year-old Spaniard Enric Baucells, seeking to file papers that will allow them to get married. Their lawyer, Jose Maria Ortiz, told the newspaper El Periodico that the judge informed them he could not marry them because Dutt is from India, which doesn’t allow same-sex marriage. The court said that the couples can appeal to a Justice Ministry department that oversees Spain’s civil registries.
July 11, 2005
Two men first to wed under new Spain law
Madrid – Two men who have been together for 30 years got married Monday, becoming the first couple to wed under Spain’s new law allowing same-sex marriages. The ceremony took place in Tres Cantos, a town outside Madrid. The law took effect eight days ago, making Spain the third country in the world to grant full legal recognition to same-sex couples. The others are the Netherlands and Belgium. Similar legislation is pending in Canada. Spanish television showed video of the couple — identified in news reports as Emilio Menendez and Carlos Baturin — smiling broadly and holding up wedding rings after the ceremony at the town hall in Tres Cantos.
July 18, 2005
A Long Road From Fascist Era to Gay Marriage–As Spain’s first same-sex couple is wed, church objections recall the Franco years for some.
by Tracy Wilkinson, Madrid
The groom wore white. The other groom wore orange. Both trimmed their mustaches for the Big Day. After 30 years together, Carlos Baturin and Emilio Menendez tied the knot last week in a suburban Madrid city hall, becoming the first Spaniards to avail themselves of one of the world’s most liberal laws sanctioning homosexual marriage. The new rules have put Spanish authorities into bitter conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and revived angry rhetorical ghosts from Spain’s civil war, when the church backed dictator Francisco Franco and homosexuality was a crime. The church has branded the law, a pet project of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as nothing less than an unprecedented threat to Christian civilization. When the Socialist-dominated parliament approved gay marriage this spring, a senior cardinal at the Vatican called on Spanish officials to refuse to enact the law.
Several mayors jumped on the bandwagon and declared their defiance, saying they would refuse to marry gay couples as a matter of conscience. (In Spain, couples have to undergo a civil ceremony officiated by a mayor or city official and may then opt for a religious wedding in addition.)And so, amid the furor, Baturin and Menendez said their vows before a suburban alderman from the United Left party, witnessed by a dozen of the couple’s closest friends and relatives, and about 100 journalists, photographers and TV cameramen. "It is a testimony to who we are and what we are," said Baturin, a psychiatrist. "Now we are more official. We both believe in marriage and family, and we wanted to be part of that."
Menendez’s 88-year-old mother, Marina, gave the couple an Adriatic cruise as a wedding gift. She attended the ceremony and was reported to be in excellent spirits and proud of her son, for whom growing up gay in Franco’s Spain was not easy. As a youth, Menendez completed military service in the Spanish army, finding a niche with other gays like himself, none of whom could reveal their sexual orientation openly but who could protect each other. "We knew how to hide it," Menendez said. "It was a clandestine way of living, and not just because of being a homosexual. The ’70s were a time when you spoke softly about certain things, and only in private."
Franco died in 1975, a few months after Baturin and Menendez started dating, secretly, and the transition to democracy in tradition-bound Spain was launched. A few days after the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds were still basking in the glow of marital bliss, sitting in the lobby of their favorite gym and receiving congratulations, kisses and handshakes from passing friends. Menendez, a window dresser for Spain’s leading department store chain, El Corte Ingles, said he remained disappointed that his church had so vociferously opposed gay unions. "The first commandment is to love each other, and the church has lost a beautiful opportunity to show love," he said. "It makes me very sad."
Baturin and Menendez are around 50 (they won’t give precise ages, they say, out of vanity) and clearly comfortable with each other, an ease born of many years as a couple. Baturin, a little older than Menendez, has close-cropped blond-white hair, intense eyes and an angular, thin face. Menendez has wavy, dark hair and a dimpled smile. For the wedding, Menendez, the shopper of the family, chose striped jackets for the pair, beige for himself and blue and white for Baturin. Menendez added an orange shirt, and Baturin donned a white shirt and trousers. They exchanged white-gold rings, each inlaid with a diamond.
They say they had intended to keep the ceremony low-key but that journalists got wind of the historic event and descended on City Hall. Guests threw rice and rose petals to greet the newlyweds, but the pair declined to kiss in public. Although numerous countries today recognize some form of same-sex partnership, the Spanish law goes beyond most because it eliminates all legal distinction between heterosexual and homosexual marriages. A gay married couple has all the same rights as a straight married couple, including the right to adopt children. A similar law exists in the Netherlands, and one is pending in Canada.
Zapatero says the law will help transform Spain into a new and "decent society." His agenda also includes plans to liberalize divorce, abortion and stem-cell research.
But the church is incensed, saying the very definition of family is being destroyed. To underscore their point, church leaders took the unusual step of joining forces with the political right wing and heading a massive street demonstration last month to demand that the traditional definition of marriage be preserved. Many on the left warned of a throwback to the days of Franco, when the church and fascism worked hand in hand. But political leaders on the right, including Mariano Rajoy, the head of the Popular Party ousted last year by Zapatero’s surprise electoral victory, blamed the Socialist government for sowing division.
Though Spain is traditionally a Roman Catholic country, Spaniards are increasingly less likely to go to Mass and follow other religious customs. Rajoy and some of the opponents of gay marriage say they don’t mind legislation recognizing civil unions for homosexuals. They draw the line, however, at giving it a status equivalent to the marriage of man and woman. The issue has roiled debate in a number of countries, including the U.S. The Bush administration and its conservative backers are promising to fight the kind of same-sex unions that a number of jurisdictions have enacted. "We’ve been awakening a lot of awareness," said Benigno Blanco, vice president of the Spanish Family Forum, which organized the protest march and has collected half a million signatures to force a new law that would define marriage as the joining of a man and woman. "This is what Spaniards really want. The marriage of husband and wife is the natural niche from which new life arises."
And so, as Baturin and Menendez take off on their honeymoon, Spaniards will continue to debate how far and fast their society is changing, and whether some changes are long overdue or too much at once. "The legal relationship between homosexuals must be different from conventional marriage," Mario Amilivia, the mayor of the city of Leon, said in a statement explaining his decision to refuse to marry gays. "This type of thing only generates friction in society, in a gratuitous way."
July 20, 2005
Spain sees first lesbian marriage
More journalists than guests were at Veronica and Tiana’s wedding; Two women have become the first in Spain to get married since a new law allowing same-sex weddings.
Veronica and Tiana, from Spain and Argentina, were married in Mollet del Valles near Barcelona.
On Thursday, a judge in southern Spain angered the gay community by preventing two other women from tying the knot.
The judge questioned whether the new marriage law was compatible with the constitution, which refers to marriage only between "a man and a woman." The first marriage between two men took place on 11 July a week after the marriage law came into force. Spain’s lower house of parliament voted in favour of the bill on 30 June, overruling its rejection by the upper house, the Senate. Polls suggest most Spaniards back the move, although thousands joined a Madrid rally against the bill before it was passed. And some of Spain’s local mayors have said they will not officiate at gay marriages.
12 August, 2005
Spain allows gays to wed foreigners
Spain’s justice ministry ruled this week that citizens can marry a same-sex partner who is foreign, even if that person’s home country would not legally recognise the marriage.
The ruling was published in the Official State Bulletin, according to international news reports. The action resolves the first snag in Spain’s new law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Last month a gay Spanish man was denied the right to marry his Indian partner when a court in the northeastern Catalonia region ruled that the union would not be acceptable because India does not permit same-sex marriages. The country’s justice ministry overruled however.
"A marriage between a Spaniard and a foreigner, or between foreigners of the same sex resident in Spain, shall be valid as a result of applying Spanish material law, even if the foreigner’s national legislation does not allow or recognise the validity of such marriages," it said. Despite heavy opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, Spain legalised same-sex marriage at the end of June. Spain is one of four countries that grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples; the others being Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands.
Gay Spanish reader comments about gay marriage:
" The reason why my friends–a gay couple–want to get married next Spring (insteaed of now) is the partners don’t want to see themselves in all the newspapers (one of them is very famous in Politics). They met each other 4 years ago and I’m sure they are not virgin 🙂 I also tell you: people who want to get married in Spain need a certificate that says "This person can get married because is single". A Spanish man who wants to get married with a man from Australia has said to me that people from Australian embassy don’t want to do this certificate because marriage between men is forbidden in Australia and the name of the partner has to be writen in the certificate. Finally I said to him: Say to your Australian partner that he has to go alone to the embassy and that he has to write the name of a woman in the certificate (where he has to write the name of his partner). Perhaps this solution has a good end and lets them get married. Kind regards, Marco
19 December 2005
Lesbian activists marry in Madrid
Beatriz Gemeno and Boti Rodrigo on their happy day
With Britain’s first civil union taking place in Northern Ireland today, Madrid saw over the weekend the marriage between two of Spain’s most visible lesbian activists. Beatriz Gimeno, who is President of the State Federation of Gays and Lesbians, and her partner Boti Rodrigo. Partido Popular councillor Luis Asua was among those present and spoke of his admiration and affection for the couple.