Australian gay activists have welcomed the passage of same-sex marriage legislation through the Spanish parliament, calling the development a boost for the local cause.

But the proposed law has provoked a vicious response from the Vatican, under the new leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.

A bill granting same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt children passed the Spanish parliament’s lower house last week.

Its introduction into law is expected in the next few months, since a rejection of the bill by Spain’s upper house would not be binding, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Luke Gahan, national convenor of lobby group Australian Marriage Equality (AME), hoped the Spanish legislation would revive debate around gay marriage in this country.

I’m hoping that developments such as those in Spain will show people that same-sex marriage is not a dead issue -¦ and that in time Australia will go in the same direction, Gahan told Sydney Star Observer.

It shows that the tide is turning around the world and that countries are beginning to see that same-sex marriage is -¦ a realistic step.

But developments in Spain just highlighted Australia’s backwardness on the issue of same-sex marriage, according to gay activist Rodney Croome.

He told the Star that Australia lacked both laws and debate around gay marriage, going against the trend in other Western countries.

Spain will become the third European Union country after the Netherlands and Belgium to allow same-sex marriages when the proposed law passes.

It will also face strained relations with the Vatican, which has called on Spain’s Catholics to fight the legislation.

A senior Vatican official denounced the proposed law in an early sign of the conservative approach expected from new pope Benedict XVI, London’s The Times reported.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo told an Italian newspaper the Spanish law was iniquitous and said officials should refuse to perform same-sex marriages -“ even if it meant losing their jobs.

They should exercise the same conscientious objection asked of doctors and nurses against a crime such as abortion, Trujillo was quoted as saying.

This is not a matter of choice: all Christians -¦ must be prepared to pay the highest price, including the loss of a job.

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, German cardinal Josef Ratzinger was the author of a 1986 Vatican document that called homosexuality an intrinsic moral evil.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to foster local debate, the NSW Greens will hold a same-sex marriage forum at the Newtown Hotel this Sunday.

Delegates including Nick McKim, the Tasmanian Greens MP who tabled the same-sex marriage bills in Tasmanian parliament, will discuss the possibility of gay marriage in NSW.

Rodney Croome, who will also attend the forum, said state-based gay marriage laws like those proposed in Tasmania were the best way to proceed.

For many Australians [the developments in Spain] will seem like a long way away and largely irrelevant, he said.

For there to be a widespread debate in Australia there has to be legislation introduced here.

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