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State of a union

When Carlos and Emilio were married in Madrid last July, it marked the end of their 30-year courtship.

The two men met in a Madrid café in February 1975 when Spain was still ruled by the dictator General Francisco Franco and homosexuals were imprisoned under the Law on Social Dangers.

‘Back then it was scandalous, but we still moved in together,’ a beaming Emilio told reporters after Spain’s first gay marriage.

Emilio’s mother used to pray for him to change his sexuality. ‘Now she’s buying us a cruise.’

Almost a year into marriage, Carlos and Emilio are still going strong.

‘What makes you feel closer is people’s reaction,’ says Carlos. ‘Now they associate you, put you together. Even though we have been together for 30 years, in the eyes of the law we used to be just room-mates.’

For Emilio, getting married was about more than mere legal recognition of their rights. ‘I’ve noticed a big difference with my mother and siblings,’ he says. ‘Now they talk about family issues with both of us.’

Like an old married couple, they even finish each other’s sentences.

‘It’s not that we used to fight a lot,’ begins Emilio. ‘But now we never fight,’ concludes Carlos.

The ease with which these most celebrated of newlyweds have settled into married life belies the fact that their union marked something of a social revolution in this once staunchly Catholic country.

Despite polls showing that two-thirds of Spaniards supported the reforms, the legalisation of gay marriage—only Canada has gone as far in extending full legal equality to homosexual unions—prompted a conservative backlash that raised the political temperature across Spain.

The Catholic Church not only opposed the new laws, but did so with a vehemence that alienated many Spaniards.

Before the law was passed, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, the vocal spokesman for the powerful Spanish Bishops’ Conference, said that legalising gay marriage was akin to ‘imposing a virus on society’ and was the biggest challenge faced by the Church in 2000 years.

During parliamentary hearings into the legislation, Aquilino Polaino, a psychiatry professor from Madrid’s Catholic University, appeared before the Senate’s Justice Committee at the request of the main opposition Popular Party and testified that homosexuality was ‘a disease’ that ‘can be corrected by therapy’. This ‘disease’, he assured senators, was caused by ‘a hostile, distant, alcoholic or violent father’ and ‘an overprotective, cold and demanding mother’. Homosexuals, he concluded, ‘did not play games as children, may have suffered sexual abuse within the family and are more likely to be promiscuous, take drugs and suffer from schizophrenia.’

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Madrid to protest against the laws, led by Catholic bishops in full ceremonial regalia.

Although opinion polls reveal that more than two-thirds of Spaniards support the new law, Carlos is still quietly angry about the response to their marriage.

‘Everyone deserves the acceptance of their fellow human beings,’ he says. ‘It’s like a balm. That’s why it makes us so angry that some people are against it. After six months, nothing has happened. The fact we are married hasn’t hurt anyone.’

Emilio, who is Catholic, is more emphatic: ‘I am very pissed off at the Church. I have read a lot about it since the law was passed. It shocks me that their position is so categorical.’

The Church’s opposition has, however, come to nothing. Since Carlos and Emilio wed, more than 500 gay and lesbian couples have tied the knot.

On 14 January, Spain’s Constitutional Court finally rejected a legal challenge brought by Catholic registrars who refused to officiate at gay weddings.

After 30 years of living together, Carlos and Emilio are accustomed to weathering the controversy that surrounds their relationship. What they’re yet to get used to is how even mundane events have taken on a whole new meaning.

‘A couple of weeks ago, I had to have an endoscopy,’ Carlos recalls. ‘The nurse asked me who would be accompanying me. Without thinking, I said, “I’m here with my husband.”’

Anthony Ham is a freelance writer based in Madrid.


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