An Argentinian gay couple were to make history today, December 1, by becoming the first Latin American same-sex couple to marry. However, late on Monday, National Judge Marta Gomez Alsina blocked the civil marriage so that the court decision allowing the same-sex union to proceed could be further examined.
Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre, two HIV positive men, wanted to get married on World Aids Day as a life affirming statement of their love for one another. They’d fought a tough legal battle for that right, having gone to a Buenos Aires court in April to overturn aspects of Argentina’s civil code that banned their marriage.
On Nov. 20 Judge Gabriela Seijas ruled that the ban violated Argentina’s constitution. The city’s authorities said that they would not appeal the decision, clearing the way for other gay couples to apply for marriage licenses if they so wished, although the case itself sets no precedent in Argentinian law outside of the capital.
In her ruling, which for the purposes of this case struck down two elements of Argentina’s civil code, Seijas said:
“The law should treat each person with equal respect in relation to each person’s singularities without the need to understand or regulate them,” adding that limiting marriage to a man and a woman contradicted the right to equal treatment under the law.
Argentina’s constitution places express importance on the idea of freedom for its citizens, as well as the right to have that freedom unhampered by government restrictions as far as is permissible in respecting the freedom of others.
In 2002, Buenos Aires became the first place in Argentina to allow civil partnerships for lesbian and gay relationships, but, as in the U.S., civil partnerships do not grant those couples all the rights that are conferred by marriage.
So what will the couple do now that it looks like their marriage is going to be stalled? Ever the activists, Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre plan on turning up to the marriage ceremony anyway, saying that, as far as they are concerned, Judge Alsina’s injunction can not halt their plans. If they are barred from getting their marriage license, they plan to lead a protest against the decision and will pursue legal action if need be.
Judge Alsina wanted to make it clear why she had called for the injunction however, writing that, “The decision I have adopted should not be interpreted as … discrimination against the rights of homosexuals.” Rather, it is to afford the court an opportunity to examine whether the judge who granted Freyre and Di Bello the right to marry actually had the authority to do so.
But could this injunction inadvertently help gay marriage to prevail throughout Argentina? It should be noted that, recently, Argentinian legislators have tabled a bill that would allow for same-sex marriage to be legalized throughout the nation by striking down opposing provisions in Argentina’s civil code.
The bill enjoys support from the majority party, but the decision has proved unpopular with the Roman Catholic Church, and has faced staunch opposition from many religious and conservative quarters. In 2007, a similar bill was proposed, but it was not advanced.
Putting Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre’s marriage case before the court focuses the Argentinian Congress on the need for marriage equality to be enshrined in law in a way that would be hard to ignore. For a country that places such emphasis on the freedom of its citizens, this may be the fire legislators need to spur them on.
It also puts gay marriage on the road to being heard by Argentina’s high courts as the Supreme Court has decided to take up the case. This is a risky affair, true, but if the Court does rule in favor of the same-sex couple’s right to marry, supporting that, under Argentina’s constitution, the freedom to marry is an inalienable right for gay couples just the same as it is for their heterosexual counterparts, this case could have much wider implications than just allowing the marriage of Jose Di Bello and Alex Freyre to proceed.
Yet, amidst talk of gay marriage, civil marriage and civil rights, Jose Di Bello reminds us of the real heart of this issue when he talks about his reasons for wanting to get married, citing the security of inheritance rights and other legal safeguards as chief concerns, but also saying:
“I see old couples walking down the street together and I want that to be us. I want to be able to turn to him when I’m old and wrinkly and call him my husband.”
In any country, and in any language, love, freedom and equality seem to sound the same.
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