MADRID-Teatro Real, or Royal Theatre, is considered one of the great opera houses in Europe. When it opened in Madrid in 1850, the first performance was of Donizetti's La Favorite. The opera dramatizes a love triangle involving the King of Castile, Alfonso XI; his mistress ("the favorite"), Leonora; and her lover, Fernando. The story unfolds against the background of the Moorish invasions of Spain and power struggles between church and state.
Fast-forward more than a century-and-a-half. A Leonora of a very different character, Leonor Tamayo, sits in the Café de la Opera, across the street from the Teatro Royal. This modern Leonor is no less concerned with power struggles between church and state as she helps lead the Profesionales por la Ética, a pro-life and pro-family group based in Madrid.
Tamayo's latest fight has been related to the educational curriculum in Spain's schools, both public and private. Her group has coordinated more than 2,000 complaints and has brought 375 plaintiffs before the European Court of Human Rights. Tamayo and the plaintiffs assert that a required subject, the Education for Citizenship, violates many of their basic civil rights-including the freedom of education, conscience, and religion-because its curriculum violates the internationally recognized right of parents to educate their children according to their own convictions. (Professionales por la Ética has prepared material about the curriculum, including its controversial sex education requirement, in English.)
The issue is now before the country's court system-with mixed results-and several cases have gone to Spain's Supreme Court. Despite these setbacks, Tamayo said that the important thing is the coordination between the more than 70 parents organizations throughout the country. The cooperation has been unprecedented, and largely because of the coordinating work of the Profesionales por la Ética, the education issue has been in the Spanish news-both at the local and national level-for nearly five years.
Indeed, in part because of the leftist policies of Spain's Socialist Party Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, groups like Profesionales por la Ética are getting more media attention. On March 26, more than 70 cities in Spain celebrated International Pro-Life Day. Profesionales por la Ética was one of the nearly 50 civic organizing groups.
The pro-life movement in Spain is also concerned with euthanasia. At a recent press conference in Madrid, Profesionales por la Ética presented a report on new legislation the Spanish government is preparing on what it calls "a dignified death," which Tamayo says is the first step toward legislating euthanasia.
Will the newly energized conservative movement be able to translate media attention into a strong conservative turnout at the polls in 2012? That remains to be seen. Zapatero has said he will not stand for reelection, and the economic troubles of Spain have generally been good for the Partido Popular, the Popular Party, the more conservative of the two major political parties. "But the Popular Party wants to be seen as the party of the center," Tamayo said. "They don't want to have a conservative image." The reason for that is simple: The people of Spain are conservative only when compared to outright socialist and leftist policies. Evangelicals account for less than 1 percent of Spain's 46 million people. The Catholic Church has consistently opposed same-sex marriage and abortion. But even though a large majority of Spaniards is nominally Catholic, the influence of the church has significantly diminished in the past generation, in part because of the Catholic Church's close association with the repressive Franco regime.
That said, Spain has been a democracy only since 1978. So in operatic terms, the story of Spanish democracy is still in Act I. That's why, sitting in the Café de la Operam, just a stone's throw from the Teatro Real, it's easy to recall the old saying that "the show ain't over till the fat lady sings." The saying memorializes the big voice (and often mega-size) of the soprano who often closes a Grand Opera. Leonor Tamayo is certainly not mega-sized, but she and the Profesionales por la Ética are developing a big voice that could significantly change the ending of the story of Spain's conservative movement.