Thursday, May 13, 2010

Argentina a Step Closer to Same-Sex Marriage

From Toward Freedom
Written by Marie Trigona
Thursday, 13 May 2010

Argentina's First Gay Marriage
Argentina is a step closer to legalizing same sex marriage. The South American nation’s lower house approved gay marriage on May 6, and the law will now go to the Senate. If passed, Argentina will become the first country in Latin America to implement national legislation lifting a ban on same sex marriage. Gay rights advocates celebrated the House of Deputies’ decision to approve gay marriage, although they are working hard to push for Senate majority to approve the law.

Landmark Legislation

Five same sex couples have married following court rulings declaring the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Martin Canevaro and his partner tied the knot to become
fourth gay-married couple. “I have been happily married to Carlos Alvarez, following a court ruling which declared the civil code which impedes marriage between two people of the same sex as unconstitutional.”

Despite these case by case judicial rulings which could eventually be considered by the Supreme Court, Lesbian and Gay rights organizations have pushed for a national law that would allow marriage between gay couples. If approved, the law would grant the same basic rights that opposite sex married couples have – rights that are more comprehensive than those granted under civil unions.

President of Argentina’s Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexuals and Trans, Maria Rachid, explains. “We need this law for two fundamental reasons. First to have all of the rights which marriage guarantees: sharing with your partner a social security plan, being able to leave the person you love a pension, to leave them an inheritance. Even though these rights are an important part of a person’s daily life, there’s another reason which is even more important: which is access to legal equality.”

Many of the court rulings allowing gay marriages spawned from the courts’ interpretation of Argentina’s constitution which states that all citizens must have equal representation under the law and civil codes. Rachid, who was also the first woman to hold a civil union ceremony with her partner in Argentina adds, “If the State legitimizes judicial inequality, it translates to discrimination and violence against the queer community. To fight against this discrimination and violence, we need equal legal recognition from the State.”

Argentina’s First Gay Marriage

Two Argentine men wed on December 28, 2009 in Latin America’s first same sex marriage. Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello tied the knot in a private ceremony in the Patagonian province of Tierra del Fuego, becoming Argentina's first married gay couple. However the governor of the Southern Tierra del Fuego issued a special decree allowing the two men to wed legally. Jose Maria di Bello said that gay marriage is a symbol of civil rights. “I think this marriage is going to cause a domino effect throughout Latin America. It will allow for more transformations in which all citizens’ rights will be included and respected.”

Earlier in 2009 a Buenos Aires judge overturned Argentina’s ban on same sex marriage. But the day before the two men were originally set to marry, a federal judge issued an injunction that prevented the December 1st planned wedding in Buenos Aires. A supreme court appeal is still pending. The couple did not announce plans to wed to prevent further judicial roadblocks.

More than 60 same sex couples have presented court appeals challenging the nation’s laws on gay marriage, while another 200 petitions are being prepared for presentation. Some of the marriages that have taken place have been overturned by higher courts.

Latin America and Same Sex Marriage

Until now, no Latin American country has formally recognized gay marriages, although
Mexico City's legislature has approved them. Same-sex civil unions, have been approved in Buenos Aires and other places in Argentina, as well as in Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and in one state of Venezuela.

Martin Canevaro is president of the NGO, 100 Percent Diversity and Rights. He says that the Lower House’s approval of the same sex bill sends the message that Argentina, historically a conservative nation has progressed. “The message for gays, lesbians and trans-women and men for us to be able to live without fear, the parliament sent a message that we should be able to live in freedom and not in a closet.” He continues, “For gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and trans-sexuals not to have that protection is an act of discrimination and violence that we can’t allow when we are in the 21st century. This law will level the rights gay and lesbian families with the rights of heterosexual families, this law would repair decades of institutional discrimination and violence.”

While the Catholic Church has branded the push for same-sex marriage as immoral, the media and public welcomed the lower-houses decision to approve the law. Increasingly in Latin America, the gay, lesbian and trans community has gained visibility and acceptance along with the trend toward progressive governments in the region. Grass roots organizations have challenged standing legislation banning same-sex marriage as well as other issues such as reproductive rights for women and gender equality. Time will tell whether Latin America’s governments will pass legislations which reflect a region rich with cultural and sexual diversity.

For more than 10 years, gay rights activists have been working on the campaign for same-sex marriage. When Buenos Aires became Latin America’s first city to recognize same sex-unions in 2002, activists began the campaign for a same-sex marriage law. Argentina’s Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexuals and Trans formed in 2005 with the objective of grouping together queer advocacy groups to fight for same-sex marriage and a law that would allow trans-gender individuals to openly and legally chose their gender identity. Argentina’s annual pride march is one of Latin America’s largest, and during this year’s march thousands of lesbians, gays and trans women and men carried banners for same sex marriage as a basic right.

National Law

Following 12 hours of debate, the Lower House voted 126 to 110 to approve the bill. Vilma Ibarra, is a national deputy who wrote the current bill now on its way to Senate. “That today a homosexual is prohibited from accessing a civil institution such as marriage due to discrimination based on their sexual orientation is part of the struggle for equality. Argentina’s taking the forefront and pushing for the fight against discrimination which may impulse other countries to make similar laws for equal rights.”

The Senate must now approve the bill. Senators allied with the president’s party pledged to pass the bill and the president vowed not to veto the measure if it reaches her desk. Law-makers and queer rights activists supporting the law hope that if same-sex marriage is approved in Argentina, other Latin American nations will follow suit to grant equal rights to sexual minorities. If passed, the law will surely bring hope to activists throughout the continent fighting for equal recognition of civil rights such as same sex marriage and end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Marie Trigona is a writer, translator and radio producer based in South America. She can be reached through her blog:

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