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WORLD

First gay couple marries in Spain

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Menendez, left, places a ring on the finger of Baturin German during their wedding Monday.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Two men -- a psychiatrist and a store window decorator -- have tied the knot in a Madrid suburb, the first gay couple to marry in Spain since the country's parliament passed a law allowing such unions last month.

Monday's civil ceremony, which lasted 10 minutes, was attended by a few family members and friends of the couple -- as well as several dozen representatives of the media -- in the city council room in the suburb of Tres Cantos.

Pedro Zerolo, a gay rights activist and member of the country's ruling Socialist Party, confirmed it was the first marriage between people of the same sex in Spain and called it "a triumph of common sense and the state of law."

Spain's Roman Catholic Church staunchly opposes the new law.

The men said they have been a couple for 30 years. The psychiatrist, Carlos Baturin German, and the store window decorator, Emilio Menendez Menendez, replied affirmatively when the Tres Cantos town councilman officiating the ceremony, Jose Luis Martinez, asked if they wanted to marry each other.

"I declare you -- united in matrimony," the councilman then pronounced, dispensing with the traditional "husband and wife" formula.

The newlyweds then hugged each other, did not publicly kiss, and exchanged rings. They declined to give their ages.

The Netherlands and Belgium also allow same-sex marriage, but Zerolo said the legal terminology in Spain's new law is more progressive than in those countries. It also goes beyond the same-sex marriage law in effect in some parts of Canada, because the Spanish legislation equates fully, without any separation or distinctions, same-sex marriage to heterosexual marriage.

Parliament approved the controversial law on a 187-to-147 vote on June 30, and the measure went into effect on July 3. Since then, numerous same-sex couples have gone to city halls and civil registries across Spain to get the required paperwork to hold a civil wedding.

The newlyweds in Tres Cantos said it had not been their intention to hold the first same-sex marriage in Spain -- on the eighth day since the law took effect -- but it just worked out that way, given the marriage docket schedule in the middle-class suburb north of Madrid, after their application form had been completed.

"We're normal people who love each other and want to be happy," Menendez said afterward outside of the Tres Cantos town hall.

"The (Catholic) bishops have lost an opportunity to be shepherds," he added, saying the church could have tried to mend fences by reserving church weddings for heterosexual couples while accepting civil marriages for gays.

But thousands of Spaniards demonstrated in central Madrid last month just before the law was finally approved, and last week, leaders of the Spanish church sharply criticized the law, saying it would create "confusion" and went against "human reason."

The new law is also seen as a challenge for Pope Benedict XVI, given the Vatican's strong stance in favor of heterosexual marriage only.

The Socialist government estimates there are 4 million homosexuals in Spain, nearly 10 percent of the population.

Under the new law, gay couples could also adopt children, but the first gay couple to wed said they weren't interested in adoption.

Polls show about 60 percent of Spaniards are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Some church leaders have called on local officials not to perform same-sex marriages. Tres Cantos is ruled locally by the conservative Popular Party, which at the national level voted against the gay marriage law in parliament.

But the councilman officiating the first same-sex marriage was from the Communist-led United Left coalition, which has supported the law.

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