Despite vociferous opposition from the Roman Catholic Church (search), Spain's Cabinet proposed legislation Friday giving homosexuals the right to marry and adopt children.

Parliament was expected to review and approve the legislation promptly. That would make Spain the third nation to legalize gay marriage (search).

"This proposed law ... removes a centuries-old barrier," Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said at Moncloa, the prime minister's office and residence and site of the weekly Cabinet meetings.

The proposed legislation has been endorsed by the ruling Socialist party, which ousted the conservative Popular Party in elections in March and comprises the biggest bloc in Parliament.

"The United Left has shown from the first moment its total support" for the measure, parliamentary deputy Isaura Navarro said.

Gay advocacy groups were supportive of the measure.

"A child adopted by a homosexual couple is a child who is wanted, a child who is loved" and in no way worse off than a child adopted by a heterosexual couple, said Carlos Alberto Biendicho, president of the Popular Gay Platform.

The Catholic church adamantly disagrees. Speaking for the Spanish Bishops Conference a few days ago, Juan Antonio Martinez Camino claimed that allowing gay marriages is like "imposing a virus" or "a counterfeit currency" in society that damages the family structure.

If Parliament passes the legislation, Spain would join Belgium and the Netherlands in legalizing gay marriages.

Sweden and Denmark have "civil union" laws for same-sex couples, which fall short of legalizing gay marriage. However, in both countries the union can be blessed by the Lutheran Church (search), the state religion in Denmark and the dominant one in Sweden.

In the United States, the House of Representatives on Thursday rejected an amendment banning gay marriage.