Brazil’s federal supreme court ruled unanimously on Thursday that same-sex couples should be allowed to access civil unions as formal recognition of their partnerships, and while the court stopped short of explicitly granting marriage equality many advocates in the country believe that this ruling will be a stepping stone to achieving full marriage rights in the not-too-distant future.
The court voted 10-0 in favor of recognizing the unions. One justice abstained because he had spoken publicly in favor of same-sex unions when he was attorney general.
The court ruled that the same rights and rules that apply to “stable unions” of heterosexual couples will apply to same-sex couples, including the right to joint declaration of income tax, pension, inheritance and property sharing.
The ruling does not allow same-sex marriage, but gay rights activists hailed it as an important advance for same-sex couples. Previously, decisions related to same-sex unions were left for judges to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.
Cleber Vicente, project coordinator for the Rainbow Group in Rio de Janeiro, called the decision “a historic achievement,” the state-run Agencia Brasil reported.
“There is something to celebrate this result,” he said. “It is a struggle that stretches for over 15 years.”
The ruling was made in response to two separate lawsuits, one filed by the Rio de Janeiro state government in 2008 and one in 2009 filed by the Public Ministry, federal prosecutors that work independently from executive, legislative and judicial branches. Rio state governor Sergio Cabral filed his suit in order to grant partnership rights and benefits to all state employees. The Court’s ruling went one step further however, directly tackling issues of discrimination against same-sex couples.
“Those who opt for a homosexual union cannot be treated less than equally as citizens,” Justice Camen Lucia is quoted as saying.
“No one should be deprived of rights on the basis of sexual orientation,” added Justice Ricardo Lewandowski.
While Argentina is currently the only Latin American country to have enacted same-sex marriage, several states including Uruguay have already legalized civil unions with adoption rights. A handful of jurisdictions including Uruguay are currently considering same-sex marriage.