Spain’s parliament has approved a bill as a first step towards the full legalization of same-sex “marriage” for the predominantly Catholic country. The measure, a proposal of the country’s ruling Socialist party, passed 183-136. Before becoming law, the measure requires Senate approval – a likelihood, according to media reports.

The new measure proposes that same-sex couples be allowed the same legal status as heterosexually married couples, including the right to adopt children, and access to pensions and inheritance.

In a statement, the Spanish Catholic bishops conference called the proposed law “an error,” saying it “went against the common good.” It is “unfair that real marriage should be treated the same as the union of persons of the same sex,” the conference added.

Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, predicted that the recognition of same-sex unions would lead to “a dissolution of the image of man, with extremely grave consequences,” in a speech delivered to a conference on European identity last year. When the state gives legal recognition to same-sex unions, the then-cardinal, added, society will break from “the moral history of mankind,” which has always given exclusive recognition to “the particular communion of a man and a woman, which is open to children and thus, to the family.”

A separate vote added an easing of divorce laws, eliminating the need for married couples to state any reason for their desire to divorce. The new measure also eliminates the requisite trial period of separation, allowing couples to divorce as soon as three months after marriage.

Spain’s leadership, under Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has seen a sweeping depreciation in issues affecting life and family. In October, the Socialists brought into effect a law that will allow researchers to use human embryos for experiments, without restrictions.

Zapatero’s government has moved quickly to eliminate mandatory Catholic religious education in schools and promoted abortion. Ninety-four pe cent of Spain’s population remains Catholic.