Catalan Parliament approves one of the world’s most pioneering laws against homophobia
A sweeping majority of the Catalan Parliament has approved a new law recognising the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people and persecuting homophobia and transphobia. The new law includes fines for homophobic behaviour at the work place and positive discrimination measures, such as having to prove one’s innocence if accused of homophobia (a measure already in place for those accused of domestic violence against women). 80% of the Catalan Chamber has backed the new law and the conservative and Spanish nationalist People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, was the only group who voted against the bill, which was filed by 4 left-wing opposition groups. The centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, which runs the Catalan Government, split its votes, as the largest Liberal party CDC completely backed the law and the smallest Christian-Democrat party UDC voted against specific articles, although it did not oppose the entire measure.
Barcelona (ACN).- An extremely wide majority of the Catalan Parliament has approved a new law recognising the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people and persecuting homophobia and transphobia. The new law includes fines for homophobic behaviour at the work place and positive discrimination measures, such as having to prove one’s innocence if accused of homophobia (a measure already in place for those accused of domestic violence against women). 80% of the Catalan Chamber has backed the new law and the conservative and Spanish nationalist People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, was the only group who voted against the law, which was filed by 4 left-wing opposition groups. The centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, which runs the Catalan Government, split its votes, as the largest Liberal party CDC completely backed the law and the smallest Christian-Democrat party UDC voted against specific articles, although it did not oppose the entire measure. Civil society groups defending LGBT rights celebrated the bill’s approval with visible emotion, waving rainbow flags inside Catalonia’s Parliament plenary room. Most of the MPs participated in a standing ovation and some of them were also quite touched. However, despite the festive atmosphere, LGBT organisations urged public powers to carry on with the work and now start developing and implementing the new piece of legislation. Catalonia has a particularly open attitude towards the LGBT community and both its capital Barcelona and the coastal town of Sitges are internationally recognised as gay tourism destinations. However, Catalonia is also a pioneer in southern Europe in the recognition of LGBT rights. In 1977, Barcelona held the first homosexual march in Spain’s history, less than two years after Franco’s death and before the approval of the Constitution in 1978. Furthermore, in 1998, the Catalan Parliament approved a law recognising the rights of registered homosexual couples, and was the first to do so in Spain and in southern Europe.
After days of tense political debates regarding Catalonia’s self-determination process and the its will to hold an independence consultation vote, shared by almost 80% of Catalans according to polls, the Catalan Parliament has held a debate on a social issue, and one that also affects civil rights. In fact, this law has been long-awaited by the LGBT organisations.
This Thursday was a historical day for civil rights in Catalonia with the approval of the first law explicitly condemning homophobia. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 had already banned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but there was no legislation specifically dealing with this issue. Until now, homophobia and transphobia were included as aggravations for hate crimes in Spain, but they were not dealt with in everyday life. Now, there will be specific legislation in Catalonia to deal with this problem, as Catalonia has approved a law that is pioneering on a global scale.
Some of the new bill’s elements
The new law includes a range of sanctions, which has been one of the most controversial points of the new legal framework. The sanctions include fines, whose amount is graded in relation to the seriousness of the offense. The parties supporting the new measure argued that without sanctions, the new law would be “a mere statement of good will”. Furthermore, another controversial aspect is that those accused of being homophobic against somebody will have to prove their innocence, instead of the victim having to prove the accused’s guilt. This positive discrimination measure is already in place for other offenses, such as domestic violence against women, in instances when it is very difficult to prove.
Another element is that the law also affects school life, protecting young students of being discriminated for their sexual orientation and reviewing school books, to make sure they have no homophobic and transphobic content. There will also be a public advisory body created to assess public powers on matters regarding LGBT rights. In addition, a public attention service will be set up to offer advice and protection to people who are being discriminated against or attacked because of their sexual orientation.
Left-wing opposition parties and the Liberal party within the governing CiU back the law
The law was filed by four left-wing opposition groups, who have all voted for it: the left-wing Catalan independence party ERC, the Catalan Socialist Party PSC, the Catalan green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA, and the alternative left and radical independence party CUP. However, the bill was also backed by the largest party within the chamber, the Liberal CDC, which is the largest party within the governing centre-right pro-Catalan state coalition CiU. The other party within the CiU, the small Christian-democrat UDC, was opposed to specific articles of the new law (such as those referring to sanctions and having to prove one’s innocence) but they have not voted against the entire measure. In addition, the populist and Spanish nationalist party Ciutadans (C’s) joined the majority and has also backed the new law.
The only party opposing it was the conservative and Spanish nationalist PP, which runs the Spanish Government. The PP argued “no” by saying the bill “was not necessary” and that “a law is not needed for every group of people who can be discriminated against”. Furthermore, it added that the law was “ideological” and that “it discriminates even more” against the LGBT people.
The Liberal CDC and the Christian-Democrat UDC wanted to stress their different positions on the issue and in an unusual way they split their speech time in the parliamentary debate (since both form the CiU group). Mercè Jou, from UDC, stressed that even though they were not backing the entire law, their stance was very far from the PP’s total opposition to the entire bill. Jou argued that the sanctions should not have been included in this law but in a more general one against all sorts of discrimination, which the Catalan Government is currently preparing. In addition, she said that they are against modifying the “innocence presumption principle” and that the elements referring to school life are a problem for many Christian-democrats MPs.
Violant Cervera, from CDC, stated that despite the opposition of the UDC MPs, this is “a law backed by the CiU”, since all the Liberal MPs will vote for it and the Christian-Democrats only opposed specific points. Furthermore, Cervera was satisfied that parties had been able to reach an agreement for a bill that was approved with a wide consensus. Finally, she stressed that Catalonia has “always been a pioneer in the recognition of LGBT rights”.
The first Vice President of the Catalan Parliament, Anna Simó, was the ERC MP presenting her group’s arguments. Simó was visibly touched by the law’s approval and stated that this law puts Catalonia at the level of the most advanced legislation of the European Union on this issue, following the EU directives.
The leader of the PSC, Miquel Iceta, who was one of the first openly gay politicians in Spain, criticised “those homophobic politicians and bishops without Christian compassion” that criticised the bill. “They have never heard about the suicide of a teenager from harassment or a mother crying over the discrimination against her son”, he added. Iceta recognised that he was “personally” touched and rejoiced that Catalonia has become “one of the most advanced nations in the world” on this issue.
The ICV-EUiA MP David Companyon was highly critical of the PP and UDC for stating that “they still do not know that homosexuality is no longer an illness, while homophobia is one”. Furthermore, he criticised the conservative MPs for presenting the new bill “as a series of privileges”. This is “an historical law” as it strengthens equal rights.
Ciutadans also voted for the new bill. Inés Arrimadas admitted that C’s “would have never voted for the new law with the original wording”, because “it was not technically viable”. However, she commended the group’s capacity, together with the LGBT organisations, to reach a consensus. “I’m sure the law is not perfect for anyone […] but it is a consensual law that will end the discrimination against this community”.
Finally, the CUP MP David Fernández said that this law is “an emergency break [to stop homophobia]as if we do not legislate against discrimination, discrimination remains”. He also criticised those who want to “downplay” homophobia and use this argument to oppose the new bill. “This is a law of a different country, which demands a greater and better democracy, which demands new practices”, he concluded.