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Spain becomes 3d country to legalize same-sex marriage

Activists rejoice; others outraged

MADRID -- At the historic Congress of Deputies, pandemonium erupted yesterday. Conservatives shouted in fury. Gay activists collapsed in tears. Some began making wedding plans -- or at least deciding who would pop the question, now that they could.

''Today is a dream come true," graphic designer Jose Paz, 38, said after yesterday's vote that made Spain the third country to legalize same-sex marriage.

''I plan to get married on Sept. 17. All my partner and I have to agree on is who asks whom," said Paz as he hugged his partner of eight years, who was sobbing.

The 350-seat Congress of Deputies, by a vote of 187 to 147 with four abstentions, approved the measure to give homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual ones, including the right to adopt children.

Inside the 19th-century chamber, several conservative Popular Party members rose and yelled: ''This is a disgrace." Outside, activists jumped for joy and waved rainbow flags symbolizing the international gay rights movement. Same-sex couples can get married as soon as the law is published in the official government registry, which could be as early as today or within two weeks at the latest, parliament's press office said.

Pedro Zerolo, a Madrid town councilor who belongs to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist party, said he intends to tie the knot soon.

''Never before has such a small legal reform meant such a huge advance," Zerolo said outside the parliament building. ''Spain has become a benchmark. As of today, we live in a better country."

Beatriz Gimeno, leader of a federation of gay and lesbian associations, said she did not expect same-sex couples to turn out in earnest at town halls until the fall because there is much paperwork for them to do.

Javier Santamaria, a 37-year-old office worker who was also celebrating outside parliament, noted how a generation ago, when right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco ruled Spain, gays suffered terrible discrimination, although there was no outright law against homosexuality. ''This is a miracle. Thirty years ago, we could end up in jail and we lived clandestinely," he said. ''Today marks the end of many years of cruelty toward the gay community."

The Roman Catholic Church, which held much sway over the government when Franco was in power, was left smarting from the vote. ''Marriage, understood as the union of a man and a woman, is no longer provided for in our laws," the Spanish Bishops Conference said after the vote, referring both to the gay marriage law and a bill passed Wednesday making it easier for Spaniards to divorce.

''It is necessary to oppose these unfair laws through all legitimate means," a conference statement said, alluding to its suggestion last month that town hall officials who oppose gay marriage should refuse to preside over such ceremonies.

The Netherlands and Belgium are the only other countries that recognize gay marriage nationwide. A bill is pending in Canada.

Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy said Zapatero has deeply divided Spain and should have sought a consensus in parliament that recognized same-sex unions.

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