The Iberian country was rated the fifth best country in Europe for LGBT rights in a new report by Brussels-based advocacy group ILGA-Europe, moving up from its place at number six last year.
In the latest Rainbow Europe report, Spain fell behind only Malta, Belgium, the UK and Denmark in its protections for and rights granted to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT).
The report ranked 49 countries based on their laws pertaining to same-sex marriage, adoption, rights for transgender people, and more.
Spain's legacy as one of the first European countries to grant equal marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2005 has made it a model for other countries that still straggle behind, said ILGA-Europe advocacy director, Katrin Hugendubel.
"With all the progress Spain has made in the past, there's really no going back," Hugendubel told The Local.
"I think a lot of people are not aware how much other EU countries have been moving ahead on this and that Spain and Portugal have full adoption rights and medically assisted insemination."
Last October, for example, a court ruled in favour of a lesbian couple who had been denied artificial insemination treatment by a hospital, stating that the doctors had infringed upon their "fundamental right not to be discriminated (against) for their sexual orientation".
Hesitant politicians, but tolerant public
Map: Rainbow Europe report.
If there is room for improvement in Spain, Hugendubel said it would be within the leading conservative party, the Popular Party (PP), whose leader and current acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had tried to challenge Spain's landmark 2005 legislation for gay rights.
The Rainbow Europe report also highlights homophobic statements made by prominent politicians throughout last year, like when Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz of the PP said that he would be "very upset" if he found out his son was gay, though he would still "be at his side".
"There is hesitant leadership pushed by high social acceptance of LGBT rights," Hugendubel explained.
There were also some eyebrows raised when Rajoy himself attended the wedding of a gay friend and fellow PP member last year.
In contrast though to how politicians may express their feelings about LGBT people, the rest of the Spanish population has one of the highest tolerance levels in Europe: 90 percent say they "totally agree" that gay people should have the same rights as straight people, the report notes.
Lessons to learn from top countries
Another area where not just Spain, but the rest of Europe still needs to focus is on rights for transgender individuals, including further anti-discrimination protections and establishing healthcare protocol for them, according to the report.
One of the major reasons that Malta came out on top in the latest analysis was because of its ground-breaking legislation for protections for intersex people - those born with sex characteristics that do not fit into typical notions of female and male bodies.
Last April, the country became the first to outlaw non-consensual medical interventions for intersex people.
"This is one issue that has been neglected for a long time," said Hugendubel.
"One of the messages from this report is that countries can learn a lot from each other."
The countries that performed the worst in the report were Monaco, Turkey, Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan at the very bottom.
"You can't move ahead on one thing and think the job is done," said Hugendubel. "In the EU there's a feeling that lack of equality is only happening outside of Europe, so this is a reminder that we're not all on the right side of history quite yet."