BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Senate narrowly approved a law early on Thursday authorizing same-sex marriages, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed.
After 15 hours of debate, the Senate voted 33 to 27 in favor of the measure, which was sponsored by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. For weeks, she waged a bitter war of words with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue, saying that it would be a “terrible distortion of democracy” to deny gay rights and that religious leaders needed to recognize how socially liberal the nation had become.
In its race to derail the change, the church had organized large protests throughout the country involving tens of thousands of opponents of the law, with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, declaring it a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”
Portugal and Iceland also legalized gay marriage this year, adding to the small but steadily expanding list of nations, most of them in Europe, to do so.
But in a region where the separation of church and state is not always so clear, the law demonstrated a rare but increasing willingness by some Latin American nations to confront the church on fundamental issues, like Chile’s legalization of divorce and Brazil’s public distribution of contraceptives in recent years.
“There is no question that the law is unusual for a country that is not as secular as Western European democracies,” Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College, said of Argentina’s same-sex marriage measure. “There’s a clear conflict with the church. Very seldom do we see presidents willing to fight the church so strongly on this particular issue in Latin American,” even in countries led by left-leaning governments.
Argentina’s new law will give gay people the same marital rights as heterosexuals, including adoption and inheritance rights, and reflects the broadening legal recognition of same-sex relationships across Latin American.
Mexico City became the first jurisdiction in the region to legalize gay marriages last year. At least two other countries in Latin America, Uruguay and Colombia, allow civil unions for same-sex couples.
But the trend is not universal. Honduras banned same-sex couples from marrying or adopting children in 2005, and refused to recognize same-sex marriages from other countries. The anti-gay atmosphere in Honduras is so intense, according to human rights groups, that more than 20 gay and transgender people have been killed there in the last five years.
“How wonderful for them,” Oscar Amador, a spokesman for Violet Collective, a gay rights group in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, said of Argentina’s gay and lesbian couples. “This inspires us to fight even more. Maybe one day we’ll have the same.”
Source By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
Published: July 15, 2010 - The New York Times