Divorce and other social laws that changed Spain forever

The way of life of a society depends a lot on the laws that are fought for and passed in Parliament and, although controversies surround them and some affect or like each person more than others, no one doubts that those of the divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia they have changed Spain forever.

This Tuesday, June 22, 2021, it is precisely forty years since the first divorce law of the democracy, a right that now seems the most normal but that was taboo since the Second Republic.

The same happened with abortion, which it would not be legalized in Spain, for certain cases, until July 5, 1985.

And the marriage of same-sex couples, also approved in summer, on June 30, 2005.

The most recent, that of the euthanasia, approved on March 18, will be launched on June 25, 2021.

Divorce law

Julia Ibars is the name of the woman who, unintentionally, has gone down in history for being the first divorcee in contemporary Spain, in September 1981. This woman from Santander would later recall "the tranquility" she felt in being able to continue with her life, remarrying - something her ex-husband did too - although for a long time she noticed the stares and comments behind her.

The divorce law was promoted by the UCD government of Adolfo Suárez and by the Minister of Justice Francisco Fernández Ordóñez, Who was accused of wanting to approve it to divorce himself.

The minister affirmed in the Cortes: "We cannot prevent marriages from breaking up but we can prevent suffering from broken marriages. "

There was resistance within the UCD, in the Popular Alliance - predecessor of the PP- and the more conservative and religious sectors. It went ahead including temporary and formal precautions, for example, it was mandatory to separate as a preliminary phase and there was a minimum period of two years to divorce.

As conflictive aspects appeared the non-payment of pensions or the custody of children, for which modifications were introduced such as the right of parents to choose custody of minors (1990) or to entrust grandparents with the guardianship of grandchildren when their parents will not reach agreements (2003).

In 2005, with the socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the reform known as the "express divorce law" was approved.

Since 1981 (year in which some 16,300 couples were divorced or separated) so far there have been more than three million marital dissolutions, between divorces and separations, according to data from the CGPJ and the INE.

The record number was reached in 2006: 145,919 ruptures (126,952 divorces, 18,793 separations and 174 annulments).

The years of economic crisis or the months of the pandemic have affected those figures. In 2020, all types of marital dissolution demand showed reductions, with a joint decrease of 13.3% compared to 2019.

Abortion law

Spanish women who decided to have an abortion resorted to clandestine sites, to dubious methods or to secretly travel to London since until 1985 abortion had been illegal in Spain with the sole exception of the legislation in Catalonia during the Second Republic.

The decriminalization took place with the law approved on July 5, 1985, for various cases, at the request of the first socialist government with Felipe González.

It was possible to abort in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in the event of violation, up to 22 weeks in cases of risk of malformations in the fetus and without limit for risk to the physical and mental health of the mother.

There were then demonstrations for and against, as is still the case, rallies in front of abortion clinics and the rejection of the Catholic Church, which considers it 'mortal sin'.

In 2010, the law was modified by deadlines, but in 2015 the PP introduced a reform that prevents women under 18 from interrupting their pregnancy without parental consent, which it wants to return to. change the current Executive.

Since abortion was decriminalized More than 2.3 million voluntary interruptions of pregnancy have been practiced in Spain under the law. If in 1986 there were 411, in 2019 they added 99,149.

Gay marriage

Perhaps the best known among the younger generations is the law that authorized same-sex marriage. It was the third to come into force in the world and the first to include adoption.

Promoted by the socialist government of Rodríguez Zapatero, was approved in the Congress on June 30, 2005 and entered into force on July 3.

It was enthusiastically received by the gay and lesbian collectives, It provoked strong rejections in the Church and in the PP, which defended unions but did not consider marriages. The 'popular' filed an appeal before the Constitutional Court, which in 2012 rejected it.

The first wedding was held on July 11, 2005 in Tres Cantos (Madrid), and the contracting parties were two men, Emilio Menéndez and Carlos Barturín. And the first lawsuit for separation from a gay marriage was registered in June 2006.

More than 55,000 same-sex couples.


Ramon Sampedro, the Galician tetraplegic who claimed for years the right to euthanasia and died in 1998, made it the subject of debate in Spain, even more so when Alejandro Amenábar's film "Sea Inside" (2004) recalled its history.

In addition to other cases, in April 2019 the controversy arose again with Maria Jose Carrasco, a terminally ill woman who was helped to die by her husband, Ángel Hernández.

Euthanasia is a term first used by the philosopher Francis Bacon in the seventeenth century to refer to those measures aimed at facilitating "a quiet death."

Congress approved this year, on March 18, the euthanasia law, which will take effect on June 25. Spain becomes the seventh country to approve it after Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, New Zealand and Colombia.

It has the rejection of the right-wing parties and the Church, which demand a comprehensive attention to suffering.

In Spain, more than 60,000 people die in poor conditions, without being able to access the palliative care.

With the law, euthanasia is a right included as a benefit of the National Health System. They can request it of legal age who suffer "a serious and incurable disease" or a "serious, chronic and incapacitating condition" that affects autonomy and generates a "constant and intolerable physical or mental suffering".

The patient must confirm his wish to die at least four times and doctors will be able to benefit from the freedom of conscience. A commission made up of medical, nursing and legal personnel will supervise each case and will be responsible for authorizing it.


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