Uruguay lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to legalize marriage equality in a process that, when compared to the United States, seems to have been refreshingly painless.
Lawmakers in Uruguay’s lower chamber of Congress saw 71 delegates out of 92 vote to approve the legislation this week, sparking scenes of celebration in the Congress building in Montevideo as public supporters hailed Uruguay becoming the second country in Latin America, the first being Argentina, to recognize the marriage rights of same-sex couples.
The Marriage Equality Law, which has already received 23-8 approval in the country’s Senate, now heads to President Jose Mujica’s desk. As the president and his governing leftist coalition supported the bill, Mujica is expected to sign without hesitance and within the next few weeks.
The legislation has been used to serve a number of functions. Chiefly, of course, it legalizes same-sex marriage recognition both internally and marriages conducted abroad.
The legislation also tidies matters involving same-sex parent adoption. Uruguay, having approved legislation in August of 2009, was the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex parent adoptions. A stipulation in the Marriage Equality Law now allows same-sex couples the opportunity to order their surnames on child identification papers.
The law also raises the legal age of consent to 16, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
The Marriage Equality Law marks a wider and concerted liberalization in the country. The progress on gay rights in Uruguay has, since 2009, been incredibly swift, but other moves such as the legalization of abortion in 2012, and the soon to be debated and heavily backed (at least among majority lawmakers) legalization of cannabis all serve to show that progress on issues like these can be swift and relatively uncomplicated.
This puts the little nation of Uruguay quite startlingly ahead of a number of countries including the United States, when it comes to same-sex partnership recognition at least.
Significantly, Uruguay has with its Marriage Equality Law sidestepped the thorny debate on binational same-sex couples who in the United States still risk being separated not just because of the Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibitive denial of federal recognition, though it is a significant legal burden, but because of the patchwork of legal recognition same-sex couples must endure as they move between individual U.S. states.
While it was hoped that the U.S.’s forthcoming immigration reform legislation (CIF) would at last address this issue by incorporating some or all of the Uniting American Families Act, recent news suggests that the reform package will not be LGBT-inclusive.
This leaves some 40,000 same-sex binational couples legally vulnerable. It also brings up the question why if Uruguay, a country with a historically strong Roman Catholic presence now turning to a non-religious affiliation, can address this issue as a mere matter of procedure, the process must be so laborious in the institutionally secular United States where it has been a recognized issue since at least 2008?
Meanwhile, and in somewhat related news, France’s Senate has now approved a bill to legalize marriage equality, sending it back to France’s lower chamber for a final reading. Given President Hollande’s party has an absolute majority in the Assembly, and that Hollande has championed the bill, the senate vote was the last major hurdle to clear.
France’s legislation, while not as inclusive as Uruguay’s recognition because lawmakers shied away from the issue of same-sex adoption, will mean France would join Uruguay in the exclusive club of just 10 nations to have so far recognized the marriage rights of same-sex couples.
Those include The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina. Add to this a tentative mention for Mexico where same-sex marriage is technically only legal in Mexico City but, after a supreme court ruling, must be honored throughout the country.
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