Connect to share and comment

Holding hands in public

Four years after Spain legalized gay marriage, gay couples say mainstream attitudes have changed.

MADRID — In 1976, Antonio Ruiz was sent to prison. His “crime”: Being gay. A nun supposedly reported him to the authorities after his mother told her he was gay. Thirty-three years later, the state is set to pay him for that indignity.

In one and a half generations, Spain has gone from imprisoning homosexuals to seeing a priest and an army lieutenant colonel publicly come out of the closet. Gay and lesbian couples kiss in the streets. They seem to be ever-present in TV programs and fiction series. And, since 2005, they can get married and adopt children — military personnel included.

The concerns of conservatives have not been entirely allayed — they still argue that gay marriage results in the devaluation of marriage, though they no longer take to the streets in protest like they did four years ago.

But with the legal protection now afforded to gay couples, that disapproval matters less, and the prevalence of homosexuality in mainstream culture speaks to societal acceptance.

There are, as always, the flashy examples of this increased integration: An interview in a Spanish daily of a magistrate at Spain’s National Court talking openly about his husband; the reportedly million plus people — including entire families and straight retiree couples — who are drawn to the festive Madrid Gay Pride Parade.

But it goes beyond those obvious signs, gay couples say. Attitudes have changed, as has everyday life.

Emilio Menendez and Carlos Baturin's story encompasses both that style and substance. They were the first couple to get married under the new law, 29 years after they met in Madrid. Back then, Emilio lived with his mother but spent the nights at Carlos’.

Baturin recounted seeing a bus full of policemen arrive at a night club and arrest a few people on one occasion. He said he was not scared — his American citizenship protected him. As for Menendez, “I was 19 years old, and, at that age, you’re not afraid of many things,” he said.

“It wasn’t just that it was illegal, it was the environment, people in the streets. Gays had a complex. We were considered degenerates, criminals, marginalized. Anybody in the street would insult you: ‘Look, a queer!’ Gays were rejected by their families, who were ashamed of them,” said Baturin, a psychiatrist. “It was difficult to find someone who was not traumatized.”

Baturin said gays feel more self-confident after the approval of same-sex marriage. More gays have come out, he said, and same-sex couples walk comfortably holding hands. Menendez, a window artist for a major retail department store, described how some of his co-workers feel better about having gay sons. “People who had reservations before feel reassured now,” he said.