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Spain's latest export: Gay-friendliness?

Affinity with Spain is paving the way for equality in other Latin American countries.

Revellers stand on top of a bus as they take part in a Gay Pride parade in Madrid, July 4, 2009. (Juan Medina/Reuters)

MADRID, Spain — Guys in drag steal a kiss while gals locked in embrace land a playful smack on a nearby derriere.

Such colorful scenes along a main thoroughfare of Spain’s capital city helped garner votes in November to make Madrid’s Gay Pride celebration the best annual gay event in the world, according to a popular gay travel website.

But the international crowd of more than 1 million people partying all weekend long is drawn by more than a fiesta. Following landmark legislation in 2005 that allowed for marriage and adoption among same-sex couples, foreigners are settling into Spain to enjoy the rights they can't at home.

“People on the outside look very conservative but on the inside, socially, they’re not,” said Clare Warburton, an Englishwoman living here with her Spanish partner. “I mean they are open. That’s why you can get married here because people in their hearts, they’re socially liberal.”

Clare first met Myriam in the United States. Both are graphic designers, and the couple felt comfortable living in San Francisco and later New York until they decided to have a child. Artificial insemination allowed Myriam to give birth to their daughter Olivia.

“We knew that the next step after that was for me to adopt her, and this was something that we just couldn’t do in New York at all,” recalled Clare. “We registered as domestic partners which meant she’d get my health care but nothing else. So yeah, we needed to ensure that legally she would be my daughter as well.”

Clare and Myriam settled in an apartment near Myriam’s family in Madrid. The couple marked their first year in Spain by parading in the Gay Pride event with other same-sex couples and their children.

“It’s just a whole different idea,” said Clare. “I mean you can raise a family here, you can have all the rights that straight couples have, and I think that’s really why I came.”

But all the rights do not amount to all the freedom, according to LGBT groups in Spain. They report an increase in the number of assaults.