Spanish government splits as politicians fix flawed sexual consent law

Spanish lawmakers have voted to fix a botched sexual consent law, despite an extraordinary rift within the coalition government that left Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez dependent on the support of his conservative political opponents to change it.

The lower house of parliament late Tuesday approved reforms to the Only Yes Means Yes law after three months of uproar over it resulting in some convicted sex offenders having their prison sentences reduced.

But the vote was described as “a backlash for women’s rights” by Irene Montero of Unidas Podemos, the left-wing partner in the coalition government and the driving force behind the original law, who chastised the Socialists for aligning themselves with the centre-right People’s Party “to hand”.

The law had received international praise for wanting to prevent victims of sexual assault from being pressured into consent issues in court, saying that consent must be clearly communicated and cannot be assumed.

But by removing a previous distinction between sexual abuse and the more serious crime of sexual assault, which involves violence, it opened the door for some judges to rule that certain existing sentences should be reduced. Sánchez had lamented the “unintended effects” and said the law needed to be corrected.

The amendment to the law, which restored penalties for “violence or intimidation” offenses to previous levels, was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 231 to 56, with Podemos opposing the changes.

Andrea Fernández, a socialist official, told Podemos politicians in parliament earlier in the day: “We are fed up with your nagging. Stop exaggerating.”

Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo, a consulting firm, said: “The disagreement over the law represents the most serious rift between them [the Socialists] and Unidas Podemos since the government was formed in 2020, but neither party has publicly indicated that the coalition could break up.”

The specter of Socialist and PP politicians voting on the same side was striking for a highly polarized country set to hold national, regional and local elections later this year.

But there was no pause in the ruthless criticism between the two parties, with Cuca Gamarra, general secretary of the PP, blaming the government’s “arrogance” for the law that “caused so much pain”.

Montero, Spain’s equality minister, accused the parties backing the changes of frustrating the law’s success in making consent a key issue.

Podemos has consistently denied there is a problem with the law, instead insisting that “right-wing” judges are responsible for reducing sentences for sex offenders.

The amended law applies to new offenses but does not change the already reduced sentences for convicted offenders. Spanish government splits as politicians fix flawed sexual consent law

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