Conservatives in Europe took to the streets again this weekend. In the predominately Catholic Spain and Poland, religious groups protested against gay marriage as an assault on family values.
Church takes to the streets in Spain
Flanked by church clerics, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards marched through the streets of Madrid Saturday to protest against a proposal by the socialist government to put gay marriage on an equal footing with heterosexual unions – something only Belgium and the Netherlands have managed to achieve.
Organizers, who insisted the march was pro-family and not anti-gay, said some 1.5 to 2 million protestors had turned out to show their stance on the historical legislation. According to government counts, there were only 166,000 participants. The march was the third in just as many weeks.
Lead by 20 Catholic bishops, including the Archbishop of Madrid, the march was supported by the conservative opposition Popular Party. The two groups called out to Spaniards of all ages to show their disapproval of parliament's passage of a law legalizing homosexual marriage and the adoption of children for gay couples. Although the law has passed the lower house, it still needs senate approval to go into force; and many are hoping that it will fail. If it passes, however, it will be one of Europe's most liberal laws regarding gay rights.
Church and politics mix
United under the banner of traditional family values with mottos such as "marriage equals man and woman," and "a child's right to mother and father," the protest over the gay marriage law marks the first time in more than 20 years that the Catholic Church has involved itself in Spanish politics.
Although polls show some 95 percent of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, only around 25 percent of them go to church. A majority of them also support the gay marriage legislation put forth by Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and see it as an important step forward for civil rights in the country, which until 1975 was ruled by Catholic nationalist dictator Francisco Franco, who banned homosexuality.
No where else in Europe, except for the Netherlands, has a government pushed for such a liberal law on gay marriage and adoption. In Belgium gay and heterosexual marriage are considered equal, but the question of adoption is still undecided. In Germany and Scandinavia homosexual "unions" – not marriages -- are recognized by law, but adoption is still not possible.
Meanwhile, in Warsaw hundreds of people hit the streets to protest last week's gay and lesbian parade. The 800 participants, mostly members of the nationalist Polish Family League, called their march a "normal parade." They carried Polish flags and banners with the words "Yes to family, no to abnormality," or "a girl and a boy, that's normal."
"We are here because we want to protect certain moral values and traditions and the notion that a family consists of a man and a woman," said 18-year-old Kacper Maczak. In front of the parliament building, the representative for Family League, Robert Strak said: "We are here to show that Poland is a normal country and that abnormality is not welcome. We are the home of Pope John Paul II. There is no place for abnormality here."
Only a week ago, conservative politicians and the Catholic Church joined forces to protest against Italy's fertility laws. With an endorsement from the newly appointed Pope Benedict XVI, the alliance mobilized voters, particularly those in rural regions, to abstain from voting on a government referendum to change what is Europe's strictest fertility laws.