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Spanish gays quit the church

Spain: Gay rights activists have handed in 1500 letters to the Catholic Church from people renouncing their faith in anger at its opposition to gay marriage, which the Socialist Government plans to legalise.

The mass apostasy last week was a powerful gesture in a country where 95 per cent of people define themselves as Catholics.

In the battle to regain the Christian heart of Europe, Spain - birthplace of some of the most conservative Catholic movements - is a disappointment. The Vatican sees Spain as having deteriorating Christian values, and the Pope has recently told Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that Spain had to conserve moral and cultural values. Spain's Catholic bishops have already spoken out strongly against the adoption of children by homosexual couples.

The Socialist Government, which won power in April, quickly announced it would seek to legalise same-sex marriage and says a draft law will be presented in September - a radical move in a country where homosexuality was illegal until 1975. Indeed, legalizing gay marriage was one of the campaign platforms of Prime Minister Zapatero.

"The moment has finally arrived to end once and for all the intolerable discrimination which many Spaniards suffer because of their sexual preferences," Zapatero told parliament during a debate which ended with a vote to confirm him in office last April. "Homosexuals and transsexuals deserve the same public consideration as heterosexuals," he said. "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."

"I do not wish to belong to an institution that crushes gays, lesbians and transsexuals daily," said Pedro Zerolo, a member of the Socialist Party executive board and one of the 1500 who asked that their names be struck from church records.

Gay activists said the church should not interfere in politics.

"That's... out of the Middle Ages and there is no place for it," said Arnaldo Gancedo Senra, head of the gay rights group that staged the protest. "The Government is doing something big for us... and if it needs our support we gays, lesbians and transsexuals will be there for it."

While the Government's anti religious agendas have stirred heated debate in parliament and prompted protests from bishops, there has not been much grassroots resistance amongst the faithful in Spain. There are already nine other countries in Europe which have some form of recognition for same-sex couples.

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