On Thursday, Argentina’s Senate voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage by 33 votes to 27 with three abstentions, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage.
The bill, which grants same-sex couples all the rights, responsibilities and benefits of heterosexual marriage, including the right to jointly adopt, was debated in the Senate for around 14 hours. Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies already passed the legislation just a few weeks ago. The legislation has become a flagship piece of legislation for President Cristina Fernandez’s center-left government though the debate in fact split both major political parties. The president is expected to sign the bill into law within the next few days.
“From today onward, Argentina is a more just and democratic country,” said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender federation. The law “not only recognizes the rights of our families, but also the possibility of having access to health care, to leave a pension, to leave our assets to the people with whom we have shared many years of life, including our children,” she said.
The 33-27 Senate vote was tallied shortly before dawn, after a marathon debate that touched on religion, ethics, the legacy of Argentina’s dictatorship and the challenges of raising children. There were three abstentions. Since the lower house already approved it, the law takes effect within days.
Gays and lesbians who have already found Buenos Aires to be a welcoming place to live will likely rush to the altar, but same-sex couples from other countries will need to live in Argentina before becoming eligible, and the necessary residency documents can take months to obtain.
The passage of the bill was not without controversy. Determined to oppose the bill and bring that message directly to Argentina’s lawmakers, approximately 60,000 people marched on Congress with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a leading voice of opposition, organizing the event and commenting “children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother.” While civil unions proved quite controversial also, they did win support with a substantial body of religious conservatives with the caveat of a ban on same-sex couples adopting, yet, in granting gay marriage rights, Argentina has managed to bypass civil unions and has achieved full equality.
Civil unions for same-sex partners have been legal in Uruguay and some states in Mexico and Brazil for quite a while now. Gay marriage is also legal in Mexico City.
Even before this historic vote there had been a couple of same-sex marriages in other areas of Argentina. Gay couples were able to obtain marriage licenses through challenging Argentina’s gay marriage ban on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, whereby they could receive individual permission to marry, but these challenges have met with mixed success and, for obvious reasons, were laborious and costly for the parties involved.
This issue was perhaps brought into focus by gay couple Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello who attempted to marry on December 1 of last year after managing to secure permission from a lower court in Buenos Aires. This was immediately challenged by a higher court who, not disputing the right to same-sex civil marriage as such, contested the lower court’s power to make such a ruling. The couple eventually did marry, but their case was set to go before the Supreme Court at some point next year. Obviously, with the legalization of same-sex marriages this now becomes redundant. You can read more about Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello’s story here.
Nepal looks set to be the next country to legalize same-sex marriage as lawmakers are busy hammering out a new constitution that will grant a broad set of rights and protections for gay and lesbian couples.
But, for today, congratulations to Argentina!
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