MADRID, Spain -- A Catholic lay group opposed to gay marriage presented lawmakers Wednesday with a petition bearing 600,000 signatures, a day before Parliament was expected to legalize same-sex unions in Spain.
The Spanish Family Forum said the signatures were in addition to half a million others presented last month to press the Socialist government to call a referendum on whether Spain should institute gay marriage.
"We are asking for a referendum, and then we'll know what Spaniards really want," said Luis Carbonel, president of a group that is part of the forum.
The organization also wants conservative Spanish lawmakers opposed to gay marriage to file a lawsuit seeking to have it declared unconstitutional on grounds that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman.
Outside the parliament building, a small group of demonstrators wore white masks with red Xs over the mouth to symbolize their view that Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is silencing traditional Spanish families.
The bill, expected to be passed today in the lower house of Parliament, legalizes gay marriage and gives same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones, including the right to adopt children and inherit each other's property.
Zapatero's bill has infuriated the church in this mainly Roman Catholic country.
A survey released in May by pollster Instituto Opina said 62 percent of Spaniards support the government's action on this issue and 30 percent oppose it. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
If passed, the bill would make Spain only the third country in the world to legalize gay marriage. The other two are Belgium and the Netherlands.
The action came a day after Canada took a step closer to legalizing same-sex unions. A bill to gay marriage bill passed in Canada's House of Commons on Tuesday in spite of fierce opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders. It is expected to easily pass Canada's Senate before the end of July.
The bill, drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party government, would grant same-sex couples legal rights equal to those in traditional unions between a man and a woman, something already legal in a majority of Canadian provinces.
Martin praised Tuesday's vote as a necessary step for human rights.
"We are a nation of minorities," Martin said. "And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights."
In the United States, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage and most states refuse to acknowledge marriage certificates from gay and lesbian couples, regardless of where they wed.
Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriages; Vermont and Connecticut have approved same-sex civil unions.