A decade after legalization, same-sex weddings make up less than 2% of total

More than 30,000 couples have tied the knot since Spain passed its 2005 gay marriage law

The wedding between Socialist politician Jaume Collboni (l) and TV producer Óscar Cornejo in Barcelona in April 2011.
The wedding between Socialist politician Jaume Collboni (l) and TV producer Óscar Cornejo in Barcelona in April 2011.Susanna Saez

They aren’t the majority, but now they are where they weren’t before: in the marriage statistics. In the 10 years since same-sex marriage was introduced in Spain, 31,610 gay and lesbian couples have tied the knot, according to figures just released by the National Statistics Institute (INE). But the figure, which represents just 1.72% of the 1.8 million marriages that have taken place in Spain since 2005, is not the important thing for those who fought to have the law changed: it was never about the numbers, but about equality before the law.

Same-sex couples stay together longer: just 6.56% of the gay marriages that took place between 2005 and 2013 have broken down

Congress approved the law change on June 30, 2005 under the Socialist Party administration of former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Two weeks later, the first gay marriage took place in Spain between Emilio Menéndez and Carlos Baturín, who had already been together for three decades. The first wedding ceremony between two women happened 11 days after that, on July 22, when Tani and Verónica tied the knot in Mollet del Vallés, Barcelona province.

Thus, using the term “marriage” instead of civil unions or contracts, gay people wed in front of judges, mayors, councilors, and notaries, like other citizens. Unions between men make up the majority of same-sex marriages, representing 61.4% of the total.

In 2006 alone, there were 4,313 weddings between homosexuals in Spain, the highest annual figure in this first decade. Since then, yearly totals have not fallen below 3,000. Uncertainty led many couples to think that it was “now or never” – in September 2005, shortly after the law was passed, the Popular Party lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court. The party, then in opposition, said that same-sex marriages “perverted” the institution of marriage. A long seven-year silence followed as the court addressed the appeal, sparking fears among many same sex couples about the legal validity of their unions. Finally, though, the Constitutional Court approved the law change in November 2012.

And now gay couples are in the marriage statistics, they are also appearing in the divorce figures. The first gay divorces occurred in 2007, but while the INE has data for the number of homosexual marriages held between 2005 and 2014, it only has figures relating to separations up until 2013. What they show, though, is that same-sex couples stay together longer: of the 28,310 gay marriages that took place between 2005 and 2013, 1,858 ended in divorce, separation or annulment, which is to say, 6.56%.

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Over the same period, the proportion of breakdowns in heterosexual marriages was much higher. Between 2005 and 2013, 1,626,783 heterosexual marriages took place, as well as 1,075,893 divorces. This means that for every 10 marriages between men and women, there were 6.6 breakups.

In other words, of the 1,077,751 divorces, separations and marriage annulments that took place between 2005 and 2013, just 1,858 – or 0.17% of the total – were between same-sex couples.

Although there are fewer divorces between same-sex couples than heterosexual ones, the figure is growing each year. From 59 breakups in 2007, the number has grown steadily to 549 in 2013, the highest of any year so far.

As with heterosexual couples, divorce is the preferred way to end a marriage when couples decide to split: it was the choice of 1,773 same-sex couples (95.42% of the total). There were just 22 separations, and only four annulments.


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