Friday

22nd Feb 2019

Focus

Spain and Portugal: from tyrants to toleration

  • The Vasco de Gama bridge in Portugal (Photo: F H Mira)

On a map of Europe where green is gay-friendly and red is not, an olive-coloured peninsula in the west brings a little variety to an otherwise yellowish south.

Both Spain and Portugal, in a little over one generation, have gone from being among the most repressive to the most egalitarian societies for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi- and transexual people] people.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Under the fascist dictatorships of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal, homosexuality was forbidden. Gay people were reportedly imprisoned in large numbers. But soon after both regimes collapsed in the mid-1970s, the new democracies embarked on a legal overhaul.

Today, Spain and Portugal are among a handful of countries in the world that allow same-sex couples to marry, according to a recent study by Ilga-Europe, an organisation for LGBT rights and the creator of the so-called rainbow map.

Both have enshrined in their constitutions the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation - Spain also on the grounds of gender identity - and have adopted laws for the legal recognition of gender change.

"We are at the beginning of a new stage now," says Paulo Corte Real from Familias Arco Iris, an LGBT rights group in Portugal.

"A lot of progress has been made. We are now investing more in raising awareness."

In 2009, attitudes in Portugal toward LGBT people were still less positive than the EU average, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, but improving fast. In Spain, they were above average.

Gabriel Aranda from FELGTB, a federation of rights groups in Spain, says that the adoption of the marriage law in his country in 2005 - the second in the world after the Netherlands in 2001 - created "a domino effect" in the hispanuc world. Mexico and Argentina have adopted similar laws "and now they are talking about it in Chile."

It is not a coincidence, experts say, that among the most gay-friendly countries today are former authoritarian regimes which had close ties to the Catholic church, a source of antipathy toward gay rights.

"Wherever you have the biggest oppression you have the biggest resistance," says Renato Sabbadini, secretary-general of Ilga, a global LGBT rights organisation.

"Regardless of all the appeals any bishop or cardinal would make, people remember the role of the church during the dictatorship," he adds. "People have not forgotten about that."

"There is definitely a feeling of reparation," says Corte Real from Portugal. "A feeling of making up for whatever happened in the past."

Boris Dittrich, LGBT chief at Human Rights Watch, agrees.

"People distance themselves more easily from the church, because of what happened,” he says. "Nevertheless, I must say that I admire the politicians who stood their ground. The church waged a strong lobby, threatening with excommunication and everything."

In Spain, however, the battle is not over yet. Aranda says he fears the new conservative government might try to overturn the same-sex marriage law by changing the composition of the country’s constitutional court. After seven years, the court still has to decide on the constitutionality of the law.

It is unclear when it will. "But we hope it will before it changes," says Aranda. "We are waiting."

MEPs condemn homophobia in eastern Europe

MEPs from across the political spectrum have criticised EU member states Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary, as well as neighbouring Russia, Ukraine and Moldova over an upsurge in homophobia.

EU court bars tests for gay asylum seekers

Authorities in EU countries can no longer impose controversial psychological tests to determine whether an aslyum seeker is telling the truth about their homosexuality.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Russia offered Italy's Salvini €3m for EU election
  2. EU and US could 'quickly' clinch mini-trade pact
  3. Belgium to gather evidence on Syria 'foreign fighters'
  4. Dozens of Tory and Labour MPs threatening to quit over Brexit
  5. UK will struggle on free-trade deals, EU says
  6. Juncker pledges climate action alongside Swedish activist
  7. Swedbank brings in external help on money laundering revelations
  8. No-deal Brexit danger 'very serious', Corbyn says after Brussels meeting

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. Swedish activist urges EU to double climate goals
  2. EP budget chair seeks clarity on Saudi lobbying and College of Europe
  3. Microsoft warns EU on election hack threat
  4. Brexit talks to continue after May-Juncker meeting
  5. Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all
  6. EU commission appeals Dieselgate ruling
  7. 'No burning crisis' on migrant arrivals, EU agency says
  8. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us