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Division within the Popular Party

The Cabinet must reach consensus over its position on the legality or otherwise of same-sex marriage

The unequivocal support for same-sex marriage given by the justice minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, has sent shock waves through the ruling Popular Party, which is overwhelmingly against the law, passed under the previous Socialist Party administration in 2005. The former mayor of Madrid's Cabinet colleagues, Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz, Industry Minister José Manuel Soria, and Health Minister Ana Mato, have reminded him very publicly that the PP lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court on the grounds that same-sex marriages were unconstitutional. In response, the PP's spokesman, Alfonso Alonso, has said he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry.

There is nothing new about the divisions within the PP over the issue. Ruiz-Gallardón had already expressed his support for same-sex marriage while mayor of Madrid, officiating at several such weddings. Now that he is a minister in a PP government, his discrepancy with the party's official line has exposed its strategy of confrontation while in opposition, designed primarily to undermine the Socialist Party administration at every turn. Figures such as Federico Trillo held themselves up as the defenders of traditional values, and formed a reactionary vanguard with the Roman Catholic Church, first decrying civil unions - later supporting them - as well as opposing moves to allow homosexual couples to adopt children, and finally taking the issue to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the word "marriage" should not be used to describe what, until now, has been exclusively applied to heterosexual couples: an issue that can hardly be seen to violate anybody's rights under the law.

This confrontational approach has resulted in the current crisis within the PP: it must now decide on something over which there is no consensus in the party. It must either begin proceedings to revoke the law permitting same-sex marriage, even if the Constitutional Court decides it is legal (something that Rajoy has avoided ruling out). Or it must accept the judges' decision, as Gallardón and Alonso recommend, and in so doing anger its more reactionary sectors, which it has used until now as part of its sustained war of attrition against the Socialist Party.

Ruiz-Gallardón has done his best to play down this lack of consensus by means of a questionable argument. According to the Justice Minister, while whatever ruling the Constitutional Court delivers must be respected, the same cannot be said regarding any decision it reaches on abortion-on-demand legislation passed by the Socialists, which the PP wants to revoke. Gallardón argues that the Constitutional Court has already ruled on abortion rights when it blocked legislation in 1985 and in 1989, in the latter case regarding assisted reproduction. In both cases, the PP lodged appeals with the court saying it was acting in defense of the unborn. To now say that legislation passed in 2010 violates the rights of a fetus is the minister's own interpretation of the law, and not, as far as is known yet, that of the Constitutional Court.

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