Madrid, Spain Making an unusually forceful foray into Spanish politics, the Roman Catholic Church led an enormous march through the streets here Saturday to protest new legislation that would legalize marriage for gay couples.
Priests wearing their collars, nuns in gray habits and adults and children from all over the country converged on downtown Madrid. They waved placards declaring, "Marriage equals Man and Woman," and applauded Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid, who walked near the front of the noisy crowd.
"This demonstration is not a reaction, it is not against anyone; we've come to say 'yes' to the family unit as composed by man and woman," said Jesus Sanz, the bishop of Huesca, who traveled five hours on a bus to reach the rally.
Right-wing politicians also joined the demonstration, which was organized by a coalition of groups called the Forum for the Family. It represented the most coordinated protest to date against the agenda of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The marriage measure is one of numerous social policies that have heightened tensions between the Catholic Church and the Zapatero government, which came to power just more than a year ago in an upset electoral victory that ended eight years of conservative rule.
Zapatero plans to relax restrictions on abortion, divorce and stem-cell research. The Catholic Church receives public funding in Spain, and Zapatero has proposed reducing the church's budget and extending financial benefits to additional religions.
Some on the left bemoaned what they saw as a potential throwback to the days of the dictator Francisco Franco, who outlawed homosexuality. The conservative church was closely allied with him and was extremely powerful until his death in 1975.
But the Spanish Bishops Conference said the "extreme" nature of the marriage legislation and the "unique" threat it poses to humanity prompted the group to take extraordinary action.
The proposed law would be one of the most liberal marriage statues in Europe. It would grant full marriage rights for same-sex couples, including the right to adopt children. It has been approved by the Socialist-dominated lower house of parliament and is expected to pass the Senate in the next few weeks. Polls have shown a large majority of the Spanish public favors the law.
The actions by the Spanish prelates were in keeping with the new papacy of Benedict XVI, who has said the church must more boldly wage political and social fights to protect Christian values from secularism and permissiveness.