Same-sex marriage in Spain

Same-sex marriage in Spain has been legal since 3 July 2005. In 2004, the nation's newly elected Socialist Party (PSOE) Government, led by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, began a campaign for its introduction, including the right of adoption by same-sex couples.[1] After much debate, a law permitting same-sex marriage was passed by the Cortes Generales (Spain's bicameral Parliament, composed of the Senate and the Congress of Deputies) on 30 June 2005 and published on 2 July 2005. The law took effect the next day,[2] making Spain the third country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry on a national level, after the Netherlands and Belgium, and 17 days ahead of the right being extended across all of Canada.

The ratification of this law was not devoid of conflict, despite support from 66% of the population.[3] Roman Catholic authorities in particular were adamantly opposed, criticising what they regarded as the weakening of the meaning of marriage.[4] Other associations expressed concern over the possibility of lesbians and gays adopting children.[5] Demonstrations for and against the law drew thousands of people from all parts of Spain. After its approval, the conservative People's Party challenged the law in the Constitutional Court.[6]

Approximately 4,500 same-sex couples married in Spain during the first year of the law.[7] Shortly after the law was passed, questions arose about the legal status of marriage to non-Spaniards whose country did not permit same-sex marriage. A ruling from the Justice Ministry stated that the country's same-sex marriage law allows a Spanish citizen to marry a non-Spaniard regardless of whether that person's homeland recognizes the partnership.[8] At least one partner must be a Spanish citizen in order to marry, although two non-Spaniards may marry if they both have legal residence in Spain.

The November 2011 general election delivered a landslide victory to the People's Party, whose leader Mariano Rajoy said that he opposed same-sex marriage, but any decision about repealing the law could be made only after the ruling of the Constitutional Court.[9][10][11] On 6 November 2012, the law was upheld by the Court with 8 support votes and 3 against.[12][13][14] Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón announced that the Government will abide by the ruling and the law will not be repealed.[15][16][17]


Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe¹
  Civil union
  Limited domestic recognition (cohabitation)
  Limited foreign recognition (residency rights)
  Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples
¹ May include recent laws or court decisions that have not yet entered into effect.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, several city councils and autonomous communities had opened registers for de facto unions (Spanish: unión de hecho, pareja de hecho or pareja estable)[a] that allowed benefits for unmarried couples of any sex, although the effect was mainly symbolic.[19] Registries were eventually created in all 17 of Spain's autonomous communities; in Catalonia (1998),[20] Aragon (1999),[20] Navarre (2000),[20] Castile-La Mancha (2000),[20] Valencia (2001),[21] the Balearic Islands (2001),[22] Madrid (2001),[20] Asturias (2002),[23] Castile and León (2002),[24] Andalusia (2002),[20] the Canary Islands (2003),[20] Extremadura (2003),[20] Basque Country (2003),[20] Cantabria (2005),[25] Galicia (2008)[26] La Rioja (2010),[27] and Murcia (2018),[28][29] and in both autonomous cities; Ceuta (1998)[30] and Melilla (2008).[31] Spanish law already allowed single people to adopt children; thus, a same-sex couple could undertake a de facto adoption, but the partner who was not the legal parent had no rights if the relationship ended or the legal parent died.[19] Same-sex marriages were not legal in the autonomous communities, because the Spanish Constitution gives the State sole power to legislate marriage.[19]

Politician Pedro Zerolo was one of the most important LGBT activists in the history of Spain and one of the biggest promoters of extending the right to marriage and adoption to same-sex couples in the country.[32]

The Socialist Party (PSOE) manifesto for the 2004 general election included the pledge of amending the Civil Code to introduce same-sex marriage, granting it the same status as heterosexual marriage in order to "ensure full social and legal equality for lesbians and gays".[33] After the socialists' victory in the election, the new Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, promised at his inauguration address to bring this change forward: "The moment has finally arrived to end once and for all the intolerable discrimination which many Spaniards suffer because of their sexual preferences. (...) As a result, we will modify the Civil Code to recognize their equal right to marriage with the resulting effects over inheritance, labor rights and social security protection".[1] On 30 June 2004, then Minister of Justice Juan Fernando López Aguilar announced that the Congress of Deputies had provisionally approved a government plan for legislation to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples. López Aguilar also announced two propositions, introduced by the regional Convergence and Union party of Catalonia: one introduced legal status for both opposite- and same-sex common-law unions (parejas de hecho, "de facto unions"), while the other permitted transgender people to legally change their name and sex designation without the requirement of surgery.[34] The bill regarding same-sex marriage was approved by the Cabinet on 1 October 2004, submitted to Parliament on 31 December,[35] and passed by the Congress of Deputies on 21 April 2005.[36][37] However, it was rejected on 22 June 2005 by the Senate, where the opposition People's Party held a plurality of the seats.[38] The bill was returned to the lower house, which holds the power to override the Senate, and final approval was given to the bill on 30 June 2005 with 187 "yes" votes, 147 "no" votes, and 4 abstentions.

With the final approval, and enactment of the bill on 2 July 2005, Spain became the third country in the world to formally legalize same-sex marriages nationwide, after the Netherlands and Belgium.[39]

The first same-sex wedding took place eight days after the bill became law, and was celebrated in the council chamber in the Madrid suburb of Tres Cantos by Carlos Baturín and Emilio Menéndez.[40] The first same-sex marriage between women took place in Barcelona eleven days later.[41]

In spite of these steps toward equal treatment, a legal flaw remained: if children were born within a lesbian marriage, the non-biological mother was not legally regarded as a parent; she still had to undergo the lengthy financial process of adoption.[42] This right was granted to heterosexual couples (married or not), where a stepfather could declare his wife's children to be his without further process. On 7 November 2006, the Spanish Parliament amended the law on assisted reproduction, allowing the non-biological mother to be regarded as a parent alongside her female spouse who is the birth-mother.[43]

Ratification of Law 13/2005

The Spanish Parliament votes for same-sex marriage, 30 June 2005.

The projected bill announced on 30 June 2004 by the Minister of Justice was studied by the General Council of the Judiciary.[44] Although the General Council admitted that the existing discrimination against homosexuals could not be condoned, it was quite critical about extending marriage toward same-sex couples (including collateral adoption). It argued that the extension was not demanded by the Constitution, and that ending discrimination could be achieved through other legal means, such as the extension of civil unions.[45]

Despite this negative report, the Government presented the bill to Congress on 1 October 2004. With the exception of the People's Party and members of the Democratic Union of Catalonia, the different parliamentary parties favoured the reform. On 21 April 2005, Congress approved the bill, with 183 "yes" (including a member of the People's Party) and 136 "no" votes and 6 abstentions.[46] The bill to allow same-sex marriage in Spain was short: it added a new paragraph to Article 44 of the Civil Code, saying that Matrimony shall have the same requisites and effects regardless of whether the persons involved are of the same or different sex.[47]

21 April 2005 vote in the Congress of Deputies[48]
Party Votes for Votes against Abstained Absent (Did not vote)
 G  Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE)
     People's Party (PP)
     Convergence and Union of Catalonia (CiU)
     Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC)
     Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV)
     United Left (IU)
     Canarian Coalition (CC)
     Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG)
     Aragonese Union (CHA)
     Basque Solidarity (EA)
     Yes to Navarre (NaBai)
Total 183 136 6 25

In accordance with constitutional provisions, the text approved by the Congress was then submitted to the Senate for final approval, change or veto. On 21 June 2005, experts were called to the Senate to debate the issue. The expert's opinions were diverse; some stated that same-sex adoption had no effect on a child's development, except for perhaps a higher tolerance towards homosexuality.[49] However, psychiatrist Aquilino Polaino, called by the People's Party as an expert, called homosexuality a pathology and emotive disorder. Among other assertions that generated debate, he claimed that "many homosexuals have rape abuse antecedents since childhood" and that homosexuals generally come from families with "hostile, alcoholic and distant" fathers, and mothers who were "over protective" toward boys and "cold" toward girls. Prominent People's Party members later rejected Polaino's assertions.[50]

Same-sex marriage in Spain
Signed1 July 2005
Introduced byPrime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE)

The Senate vetoed the text submitted by the Congress. The veto was proposed by the People's Party, which held the majority of the seats, and by the Democratic Union of Catalonia, and was approved by 131 "yes" and 119 "no" votes and 2 abstentions.[51] As a result, the text was sent back to the Congress. On 30 June 2005, it was approved by Congress, which, in accordance with the constitutional provisions, overrode the Senate veto. This was achieved with 187 "yes" votes (including a member of the People's Party, Celia Villalobos), 147 "no" votes, and four abstentions. The veto override implied its approval as law.[2] The vote was held after Zapatero unexpectedly took the floor of Parliament to speak in its support, saying We are expanding the opportunities for happiness of our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends and our relatives. At the same time, we are building a more decent society.[52] Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the opposition People's Party, was denied the opportunity to address Parliament after Zapatero's appearance, and accused Zapatero of dividing Spanish society.[52]

30 June 2005 vote in the Congress of Deputies[53]
Party Votes for Votes against Abstained Absent (Did not vote)
 G  Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE)
     People's Party (PP)
     Convergence and Union (CiU)
     Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC)
     Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ/PNV)
     United Left (IU)
     Canarian Coalition (CC)
     Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG)
     Aragonese Union (CHA)
     Basque Solidarity (EA)
     Yes to Navarre (NaBai)
Total 187 147 4 12

When the media asked King Juan Carlos if he would sign the bill that was being debated in the Cortes Generales, he answered that he was the King of Spain, not of Belgium – a reference to King Baudouin of Belgium, who refused to sign the Belgian law legalising abortion.[54] For the King to withhold his royal assent, it would effect a veto of the legislation. However, the King gave his royal assent to Law 13/2005 on 1 July 2005, and the law was gazetted in the Boletín Oficial del Estado on 2 July, and came into effect on 3 July.[55] The King received criticism by Carlist and other far-right conservatives for signing the legislation.


Gay march celebrating Pride Day and the legalization of same-sex marriage

The bill's passage was met with concern by Catholic authorities, including Pope John Paul II—who warned of a weakening of family values—and his successor Pope Benedict XVI.[56] Cardinal López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said the Church was making an urgent call for freedom of conscience for Catholics and appealing to them to resist the law. He said every profession linked with implementing same-sex marriages should oppose it, even if it meant losing their jobs.[56] Gay rights supporters argued that while the Catholic Church also formally opposed opposite-sex, non-religious marriage, its opposition was not as vocal; for example, the Church did not object to the marriage of Prince Felipe to Letizia Ortiz, who had divorced from a previous civil marriage. The church was unable to gather enough support to derail the bill, even though more than 60% of Spaniards identify as members of the Catholic Faith. Sociologists believe this may be due to the significant increase of liberalism in the realm of individual rights in recent years, where the Church traditionally had most influence, especially on family issues.[57] A poll showed that three quarters of Spaniards believe the church hierarchy is out of touch with social reality.[58] A complementary explanation might be that the Church's influence on Spaniards declined after the death in 1975 of the dictator General Francisco Franco, whose regime was closely linked to the Church.[59]

Prime Minister Zapatero responded to Church criticism by saying:

There is no damage to marriage or to the family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. Rather, these citizens now have the ability to organize[60] their lives according to marital and familial norms and demands. There is no threat to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law recognizes and values marriage.

Aware that some people and institutions profoundly disagree with this legal change, I wish to say that like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will not generate bad results, that its only consequence will be to avoid senseless suffering of human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of its citizens is a better society.

In any case, I wish to express my deep respect to those people and institutions, and I also want to ask for the same respect for all of those who approve of this law. To the homosexuals that have personally tolerated the abuse and insults for many years, I ask that you add to the courage you have demonstrated in your struggle for civil rights, an example of generosity and joy with respect to all the beliefs.

— Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero[61]
Same-sex marriage opposer showing banner 'Marriage = Man and Woman'

On 19 June 2005, there was a public protest against the law. Protesters—led by People's Party members, Spanish bishops and the Spanish Family Forum (Foro Español de la Familia)—said they had rallied 1.5 million people against what they considered an attack on the traditional family and Spanish values; the Government's Delegation in Madrid counted 166,000 at the same event.[62] Two weeks after this protest, coinciding with Gay Pride Day, FELGT (Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales — the Spanish Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Organization) estimated two million people marched in favour of the new law; police sources counted 97,000.[63][64] Both marches took place in Madrid, at the time governed by the conservative People's Party.

Spanish roman-catholic bishops also claimed that the Government, by extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples, weakened the meaning of marriage, which they defined as an involving a heterosexual couple.[4] The Spanish Family Forum expressed concern over the possibility of same-sex couples adopting and raising children, and argued that adoption is not a right for the parents, but for the adopted.[5] Gay associations replied that de facto adoption by same-sex couples had existed for a long time in Spain, since many couples were rearing minors adopted by one of the partners. Adoption by same-sex couples was already legal in Navarre (2000), the Basque Country (2003), Aragon (2004), Catalonia (2005) and Cantabria (2005) before the same-sex marriage law legalized these adoptions nationwide.[65][66] Furthermore, in Asturias (2002), Andalusia (2002) and Extremadura (2003), same-sex couples could jointly begin procedures to temporarily or permanently take children in care. These associations also argued that there was no scientific basis for the claim that the parents' sexual orientation would cause developmental problems for their adopted children. This view is officially supported by the Spanish School of Psychology, which also states that homosexuality is not a pathology.[67]

In a 2008 biography, Queen Sofía of Spain revealed that she preferred the term "civil union" to "marriage" for committed same-sex relationships.[68][69][70][71][72][73] This and other alleged comments by the Queen opened the Spanish monarchy to rare criticism in 2008, with the Zarzuela palace issuing an apology on behalf of the Queen for the "inexact" quotes attributed to her.[70][74] Antonio Poveda, president of FELGT, said his organization accepted the Queen's apology, but added that there remains ill feelings by the gay community towards the Queen over the comments.[68] King Juan Carlos, known to be far more liberal than his wife, was reportedly incensed by the biography, with reporters stating the King will fire palace officials who allegedly approved official royal endorsement of the book.[68]

During the 2011 general election, People's Party leader and Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy stated he also prefers the term "civil union" to marriage for same-sex couples.[9][10][11]

In late 2017, the Socialist Party began calling for a reform to the Spanish Constitution, which, among other changes, would constitutionally codify same-sex marriage.[75]

Some Christian LGBT-friendly churches such as the Metropolitan Community Church, the Spanish Evangelical Church and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church support and perform same-sex marriages.[76]

Opposition court challenges

On 21 July 2005, a judge from the city of Dénia refused to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple. The judge also filed a constitutional challenge against the same-sex marriage law before the Constitutional Court based on Article 32 of the Constitution that contains the phrase "Men and women have the right to contract marriage with full juridical equality."[77] In August 2005, a judge from Gran Canaria refused licenses to three same-sex couples and mounted another constitutional challenge.[78] In December 2005, the Constitutional Court rejected both challenges owing to both judges' lack of standing to file them.[79] On 30 September 2005, the opposition People's Party decided to initiate a separate constitutional challenge, causing division within the party.[80] The outcome was published on 6 November 2012, seven years after the challenge was presented.[81] The Court decided to uphold the same-sex marriage law with 8 support votes and 3 against.[82]

On 27 February 2007, the Spanish Family Forum presented an initiative signed by 1.5 million people to legislate marriage as the union of a man and a woman only (thus effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage). The initiative was rejected by the Spanish Congress.[83] On 30 May 2007, the aforementioned judge of Dénia was condemned by the Disciplinary Committee of the General Council of the Judiciary to pay 305 euros for refusing to marry a gay couple and was also strictly warned against doing it again.[84] She attributed this action to the "propagandistic machinery" of the Government.[84]

Residency issues

Shortly after the law was passed, questions arose about the legal status of marriage to non-Spaniards after a Spaniard and an Indian national living in Catalonia were denied a marriage license on the grounds that India did not permit same-sex marriage.[85] However, on 22 July, another judge in Catalonia married a Spanish woman and her Argentinian national partner (the first same-sex marriage between women in Spain). This judge disagreed with his colleague's decision and gave preference to the right of marriage over Argentinian law at the time not allowing same-sex marriage.[86]

On 27 July, the Junta de Fiscales de Sala – a body within the Public Prosecutor's Corp that advises the Minister of Justice's office – issued an opinion that LGBT Spaniards can marry foreigners from countries that do not permit same-sex marriage.[87] This marriage would be valid according to Spanish law, but did not imply automatic validity according to the foreigner's national law. A ruling published in the Official State Bulletin stated:

According to the instructions from the Ministry of Justice (Dirección General de Registros y Notariado), Spanish Consulates abroad may carry out the preliminary paperwork for a same-sex marriage.[88] At least one of the marrying partners must be a Spanish citizen, residing in the Consular demarcation. However, the marriage itself can only take place at the Consulate if local laws recognize same-sex marriages. In all other cases, the partners must marry in Spanish territory.[89] Two non-resident foreigners cannot marry in Spain, as at least one of the partners must be a Spanish resident, although they both may be non-Spanish citizens.

Marriage statistics

Marriage rates of same-sex marriages in Spain in 2008

According to the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE), 50,565 same-sex marriages took place up to the end of 2017: 1,275 in 2005,[90] 4,574 in 2006,[91] 3,250 in 2007,[92] 3,549 in 2008,[93] 3,412 in 2009,[94] 3,583 in 2010,[95] 3,880 in 2011,[96] 3,834 in 2012,[97] 3,071 in 2013,[98] 3,275 in 2014,[99] 3,738 in 2015,[100] 4,259 in 2016 and 4,606 in 2017.[101]

Year Marriages between men Marriages between women Same-sex marriages Total marriages % same-sex marriages
2005 (since July) 923 352 1,275 120,728 1.06
2006 3,190 1,384 4,574 211,818 2.16
2007 2,180 1,070 3,250 203,697 1.60
2008 2,299 1,250 3,549 196,613 1.81
2009 2,212 1,200 3,412 175,952 1.94
2010 2,216 1,367 3,583 170,815 2.10
2011 2,293 1,587 3,880 163,085 2.38
2012 2,179 1,655 3,834 168,835 2.27
2013 1,648 1,423 3,071 156,446 1.96
2014 1,679 1,596 3,275 162,554 2.01
2015 1,925 1,813 3,738 168,910 2.21
2016 2,146 2,113 4,259 172,243 2.47
2017 2,316 2,290 4,606 171,454 2.69

Most same-sex marriages in 2011 took place in: Catalonia with 886 weddings (3.33% of all marriages in the community for that year), Madrid with 729 marriages (2.91%), Andalusia with 484 (1.71%), Valencia with 436 (2.58%) and the Canary Islands with 203 (3.60%).[102]

On 2 July 2015, the Spanish National Statistics Institute revealed that 31,640 same-sex couples had married since the start of July 2005 (when same-sex marriage became legal in Spain) to July 2014. This accounted for 1.72% of all marriages in Spain in that time.[103] In 2015, most same-sex marriages were celebrated in Catalonia (799), Madrid (726), Andalusia (575), Valencia (471) and the Canary Islands (265).[100]

Notable weddings

Although not an official same-sex marriage, in 1901 Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sanchez Loriga married by Elisa secretly being re-baptized as a man.[104]

Since its legalization in 2005, couples from across section of Spanish society have entered into same-sex marriages. Within the first year the law received royal assent, influential Socialist Leader and Madrid City Councilor Pedro Zerolo married Jesús Santos in January, and popular television presenter Jesús Vázquez married Roberto Cortés in March.[105][106] In October 2005, Spain's prominent anti-terrorism judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska married his fiancé Gorka Gómez.[107] In August 2006, Ourense City Councilor and member of the People's Party Pepe Araujo, whose party originally opposed the law, married his fiancé Nino Crespo.[108] In September 2006, Alberto Linero Marchena and Alberto Sánchez Fernández, both army soldiers assigned to the Morón Air Base near Seville, became Spain's first military personnel to marry under the new law.[109] In August 2008, Doña Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo, 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia and three-time Grandee of Spain (branded the Red Duchess for her socialist activism), became the highest ranking Spanish noble to marry in an articulo mortis (deathbed) wedding to longtime companion Liliana Maria Dahlmann, now the Dowager Duchess of Medina Sidonia by right of her late wife.[110][111][112] In June 2015, the then Mayor of the Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz, Javier Maroto, announced his engagement to longtime partner Josema Rodríguez. The wedding was held on 18 September 2015 at Vitoria's City Hall. Maroto, a member of the conservative People's Party's national board, is known for his views contrary to the stance of his own party pertaining to same-sex marriage in Spain.[113] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had challenged the law approving same-sex marriage when he was Opposition Leader, attended the wedding celebrations as a guest.[114][115][116]

Public opinion

A poll by the government-run Centre for Sociological Investigations (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas), published in April 2005, reported that 66% of Spaniards favoured legalising same-sex marriage.[3] Another poll taken by Instituto Opina a day before the bill passed placed support of the same-sex marriage bill at 62.1% and support of adoption by same-sex couples at 49.1%.[117] An Instituto Opina poll taken nine months after the bill had passed said that 61% agreed with the Government's decision.[118]

On 25 July 2007, the BBVA Foundation published their report Social portrait of Spanish people, which reported that 60% of Spain's population supported same-sex marriage. This support occurred mainly among the younger population, between 15 and 34 years old (75%), people with higher education (71%), people not attached to any religion (75.5%), and those identified by left and centre-left political views (71.9%). However, only 44% of the population favored the right of adoption by same-sex couples, in contrast to 42% opposition.[119]

A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 76% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 13% supported other forms of recognition for same-sex couples.[120]

According to an Ifop poll, conducted in May 2013, 71% of Spaniards supported allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.[121]

The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 84% of Spaniards thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 10% were against.[122]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted between April and August 2017 and published in May 2018, showed that 77% of Spaniards supported same-sex marriage, 13% were opposed and 10% didn't know or refused to answer.[123] When divided by religion, 90% of religiously unaffiliated people, 79% of non-practicing Christians and 59% of church-attending Christians supported same-sex marriage.[124] Opposition was 7% among 18-34-year-olds.[125]

See also


  1. ^ Catalan: unió de fet (Valencia, and Murcia), parella de fet (Aragon), and parella estable (Catalonia, and the Balearic Islands);
    Galician: unión de feito (Castile and León), parella de feito (Galicia), and parella estable (Asturias);
    Basque: izatezko bikote (Basque Country), and bikote egonkorra (Navarre);[18]
    Asturian: unión de fechu (Castile and León), and pareya estable (Asturias);
    Aragonese: parella de feito;
    Occitan: coble estable


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  32. ^ El legado de Pedro Zerolo
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