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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 10 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 41
Catalonia passes landmark hate crimes bill
Section One
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Catalonia passes landmark hate crimes bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia has passed a sweeping new hate crimes bill.

Described by the state-run Catalan News Agency (ACN) as the 'world's most pioneering law against homophobia,' the measure includes fines for homophobic behavior at the work place, and what are being called 'positive anti-discrimination measures,' including making those accused of homophobia prove their innocence.

'This positive discrimination measure is already in place for other offenses, such as domestic violence against women, in instances when it is very difficult to prove,' the ACN said.

The new law will punish those who attack LGBT people in Catalonia with fines of up to ¬14,000 ($17,700).

The law was passed on October 2 with the backing of 80% of the Catalan parliament.

'I feel furious when someone appears to deny or play down the discrimination that we gays have suffered or run the risk of suffering,' said Catalan Socialist Miquel Iceta, one of the first Catalan politicians to come out as Gay.

'They speak derisively of a gay lobby. But look at this room! This is not a group of people working undercover to achieve illegitimate goals. This is a group working to defend the rights of everyone!'

In Spain's northeast corner, Catalonia is distinguished from other regions of Spain by a distinct language and customs, and it is internally self-governing. Catalan nationalists had planned to hold a referendum on independence from Spain until blocked by a recent Spanish court order.

On the new hate crimes bill, the only party in the Catalan parliament to vote No was the conservative Spanish nationalist People's Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government. The centre-right Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union party (CiU), which runs the Catalan regional government, split its votes. All the leftist parties voted Yes.

Predictably, the Catholic Church opposed the new law. On October 3, the day after it passed, the Catholic bishops of Catalonia charged that the new hate crimes law could violate the presumption of innocence and 'complicate the liberty of communication in the teachings of Catholic morals.'

In spite of being a nominally Catholic country, Spain has been remarkably progressive on LGBT rights. Gay sex was decriminalized in 1979, four years after the death of the fascist military dictator General Francisco Franco. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005 under the former Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Anti-discrimination laws are in place, including provisions that allow Transgender people to alter their legal documents.

However, like other European countries, Spain is seeing a spike in anti-Gay attacks. Only a fraction of them are reported to the authorities, according to LGBT rights groups.

According to a Spanish government study on hate crimes, reportedly the first of its kind, out of the 1,172 hate crimes recorded in 2013, a majority (452) were based on the victim's sexual orientation, followed by race (381), and disabilities (290).

While most Spaniards continue to identify as Catholic, the church lost credibility because of its close identification with the Franco regime, and an astonishing 25% of the people identify as atheists or say they have no religion.

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