The passage of gay marriage measures last week by Spain's parliament and Canada's House of Commons carries groundbreaking implications. Although Belgium and the Netherlands previously legalized gay marriage, the populations and global influence of Canada and Spain are greater. The newer laws are also more progressive, giving gay marriage the same full legal protection and adoption rights as traditional marriage.
The reasoning and demographics behind the two votes are just as significant.
In both nations, particularly in Roman Catholic Spain, religion plays an important part in citizens' lives. Yet lawmakers in Spain and Canada alike made their decisions on the grounds that civil rights -- the rights granted by the state -- should not be trampled by religious beliefs, though churches, of course, may carry on as they see fit regarding their recognition of marriages. That reasoning, vital to protecting the rights of small groups from the will of larger ones, is increasingly absent from U.S. debates and decisions on gay marriage and other fraught issues, including abortion.
Canada's population is divided over gay marriage, and its prime minister, Paul Martin, is a Roman Catholic who has stated his concerns on the issue. Yet Martin supported the measure for the right reasons. "In a nation of minorities," he said, "it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights. A right is a right."