A Spanish bill allowing gay marriage is expected to go to parliament has the Catholic Church up in arms. One bishop said it was like unleashing a virus. Other European countries already allow some form of gay unions.
When Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took office in April he promised to remove the Catholic Church's influence on Spanish society by easing divorce rules, softening abortion laws and legalizing gay marriage.
It was the last measure that has raised the most resentment with the Church.
The legislation would be like "imposing a virus on society, something false that will have negative consequences for social life," Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference, told Spain's National Television.
The Catholic Church said allowing homosexuals to marry would be like unleashing a virus on society
If the bill passes the cabinet, it will also need to be approved by Spain's parliament before becoming law. The country's previous, conservative government rebuffed several calls to legalize gay marriage during its administration.
Some nations allow gay marriage
Although surveys show nearly half of Spain's population no longer goes to Mass, enactment would still mean a social change in the largely Catholic country, and bring it into the ranks of the mostly northern European countries that permit gay marriage or another legally recognized form of gay union.
In Germany, gay couples have been able to register their relationships since 2001. Over the summer, gay marriage became a nationally debated issue when the leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, Guido Westerwelle, acknowledged his homosexuality in July and called for more equality for gay couples.
Guido Westerwelle (left) and his partner Michael Mronz
Homosexual partners should have the right to adopt any child, not only the legal child of a partner, and receive the same tax status as married couples, Westerwelle said at the time.
A bill extending homosexuals' rights, including the legalization of gay marriage, drafted in June by Germany's ruling Social Democratic-Green party coalition government received sharp criticism from the conservative opposition, and the nation's parliament has not yet taken action on the measure.