Saturday, July 17, 2010

Argentina Passes Gay Marriage Law

Argentina approved a gay marriage law early this morning, making the country the first in Latin America where same-sex couples can wed. Same sex couples will now be granted the same rights, responsibilities and protections that married couples have. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government supported the bill and defied the Catholic Church’s opposition to the law.

Landmark vote

The Senate voted just before 4am, after 15 hours of intense debate. The law passed with a vote 33 to 27, with 3 abstaining. Leading up to the vote, activists stood outside of Congress listening to the heated debate, applauding and booing at the respective Senator’s deliberation. The law will cover adoption rights, inheritance protection, shared custody responsibilities and recognition and coverage of social security for same sex couples.

Religious groups opposing the law have pushed for the Senate to vote on a Civil Unions bill instead. That bill would limit the rights and protections for same sex couples. Outside of Senate building, Senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto, from the President’s Peronist Party said the government wouldn’t consider that option. A week before the Congressional vote, opposition pushed through by a slim margin add-on legislation for a Civil Unions bill which would have prohibited adoption and other rights for same-sex couples. During deliberations on the Senate floor Picheto considered the oppositions’ calls for modifications to the laws that had lower house approval synonymous with a “totalitarian state.”

Gay marriage

Nine same sex couples have already wed in Argentina, after a Buenos Aires judge overturned Argentina’s ban on same sex marriage in 2009. Alex Freyre and Jose Maria Di Bello were the first gay couple to get married in Argentina. Two hours before Thursday’s pre-dawn vote, Freyre told Toward Freedom he was hopeful. “I’m here enjoying the night on which Argentina will vote in favor of judicial equality. Tonight is a fundamental step toward an end to discrimination, a law that doesn’t justify legal discrimination,” he said. “It means that our families can have peace of mind in the face of the law, especially for children who live with gay and lesbian parents.”

Gay rights advocates rallied in support of the law which now guarantees equal rights as stated in Argentina’s constitution. Alberto Rucci, lived 18 years with his partner and when his partner died 2 years ago, his partner’s ex-wife inherited the house where they lived over a decade together. Legally, he could do nothing. Maria Alejandra Aranda, says that she as a lesbian wanted to law to pass so that gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and trans-sexuals can come out and demand visibility without fear. “Now that the law is passed it is a triumph, because Argentina will truly be a progressive nation. Whether or not the law would have passed, we still would have won a cultural battle and gained support from society.” In the weeks leading up to the vote, groups held concerts and rallies throughout the nation. “We are considered second class citizens. The nation is civilized enough to guarantee equality, freedom and fraternity for everyone,” said Aranda.

Religious opposition

The legislation faced fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and Evangelicals. On the eve of the vote, tens of thousands from the religious community rallied in front of Congress to protest against the same-sex marriage law. Ninety one percent of Argentines identify as Catholic.. Maria Yrcovich, a 70-year old immigrant, opposed the legislation: “Why are we here? Because we are supporting what our Church asks us to. We are in favor of family. We are against what is unnatural. Homosexuals are people. But next, they are going to ask for a law to be able to marry an animal. It’s abnormal, it’s not normal. Marriage is for a man and women.”

The Catholic hierarchy in Argentina took a clear stance against gay marriage. The Church sanctioned a priest who defended gay marriage. Father Nicolas Alessio was sanctioned and prohibited from giving mass for his declarations in favor of equality in the sacrament of marriage. Alessio told the daily Pagina/12 that he would not accept the sanction and would continue giving mass, “this is censorship and punishment, they cannot prohibit me from exercising my calling.” The Catholic priest, Christian Von Wernich, charged with carry out human rights abuses while working in several of the clandestine detention centers used to disappear 30,000 dissidents during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship continues to give mass with the bishop’s blessing.

President Fernandez de Kirchner publically scorned the declarations from the Catholic hierarchy saying that “expressions such as ‘war of god’ or ‘devil’s law’ refer to times of the Inquisition” when rights were clearly violated. In a final attempt to gain opposition, groups held the rally under the banner, “All children deserve a mother and father.” The church paid for buses to bring people to and from the event, which evoked a natural order to marriage.

Argentina taking the lead

Argentina now joins the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and Iceland as the 10th country to approve a nation-wide gay marriage law. Marcelo Torres, a public school teacher waited outside of Congress for the vote. “I’m here because I’m gay, and I support this law. I want to get my marriage just like any straight person in this country. And I’m very proud to be here. I think that this is probably one of the most important moments, because we are having great changes,” he said. “It would be like the first South American country with a gay marriage law. It would be like a revolution in South America and it will be related to other countries because they will follow us. I guess they will follow us.”

As the law passed at nearly 4am, hundreds outside of Congress celebrated, hugging each other in tears, in near freezing temperatures. For more than 10 years, gay rights activists have been working on the campaign for same-sex marriage. President of Argentina’s Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexuals and Trans, Maria Rachid, says that more Latin American countries may follow Argentina’s lead in granting equal rights to gay couples.

“The law was passed because of how hard we fought. We are a ton of activists, from the Federation of Lesbian, Gays, and Trans who worked for this law to be passed. Today we are a more just and democratic society. And this is something we should all celebrate. And we can be proud to be the first country in Latin America to make this progress in Human Rights,” said Rachid.

Latin America to follow lead?

Although Argentina's capital Buenos Aires was the first to legalize same sex unions, not all rights were granted under the civil union code. No other Latin American nation has a nationwide gay marriage law. However, same-sex civil unions are legal in Uruguay and in some states in Brazil and Mexico. Gay marriage is legal in Mexico City. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner backed the law and has vowed to pass the legislation.

With the gay marriage vote, Argentina transformed into a reference point for other governments in Latin America. Activists throughout South America plan to propose similar laws, in Chile and Paraguay. The Uruguayan gay community dissatisfied with limitation under the Civil Union statute also hopes to extend marriage right for same-sex couples. As activists celebrate the historic victor for equality and freedom, gay rights advocates hope that Argentina’s decision adds momentum to similar efforts around the world.

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

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