Lawmakers debate making Argentina first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage

By Bridget Huber, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Argentine Senate considers same-sex marriage law

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s senators debated in a marathon session early Thursday as they prepared to vote on whether to make their nation the first in Latin America to grant same-sex marriages all the rights of heterosexual unions.

The gay marriage proposal has the firm support of President Cristina Fernandez, but is strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups, which drew 60,000 people to a march on Congress on the eve of the pivotal vote.

Approved by Argentina’s lower house in May, gay marriage would automatically become law if approved by a Senate majority, but with each senator voting his or her conscience, the outcome was anything but clear. Voting wasn’t expected to begin until sometime early Thursday morning.

As the debate stretched on for more than 12 hours, supporters and opponents of held rival vigils through the frigid night outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires.

“Marriage between a man and a woman has existed for centuries, and is essential for the perpetuation of the species,” insisted Sen. Juan Perez Alsina, who is usually a loyal supporter of the president but gave a passionate speech against gay marriage.

But Sen. Norma Morandini, another member of the president’s party, compared the discrimination closeted gays face to the oppression imposed by Argentina’s dictators decades ago. “What defines us is our humanity, and what runs against humanity is intolerance.”

Same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay, Buenos Aires and some states in Mexico and Brazil. Mexico City has legalized gay marriage. Colombia’s Constitutional Court granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans.

But Argentina would be the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, which generally carries more exclusive rights than civil unions, including adopting children and inheriting wealth. The proposed law broadly declares that “marriage provides for the same requisites and effects independent of whether the contracting parties are of the same or different sex.”

“Nearly every political and social figure has spoken out in favor of marriage equality for everyone,” said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals. “And we hope that the Senate reflects this and that Argentina, from today forward, is a more just country for all families.”

Nine gay couples have already married in Argentina after petitioning judges, but other judges have challenged the marriages as invalid.

As a small group of opponents said the Hail Mary prayer nearby, teacher Eduardo Morales said he believes the legislation was concocted by Buenos Aires residents out step with the views of the country.

“They want to convert this city into the gay capital of the world,” said Morales, of San Luis province.

Ines Franck, director of the group Familias Argentinas, said the legislation cuts against centuries of tradition.

Opposing the measure “is not discrimination, because the essence of a family is between two people of opposite sexes,” he said. “Any variation goes against the law, and against nature.”

The president, currently on a state visit to China, spoke out from there against the Argentine Catholic Church’s campaign, and the tone she said some religious groups have taken.

“It’s very worrisome to hear words like ‘God’s war’ or ‘the devil’s project,’ things that recall the times of the Inquisition,” she said.

Fernandez’s husband, former President Nestor Kirchner who is currently a congressman, has been a strong gay marriage supporter.

Some opposition leaders have accused the couple of promoting the initiative to gain votes in next year’s presidential elections, when Kirchner is expected to run again.

But Edgardo Mocca, a political science professor at the University of Buenos Aires, said the senate vote about much more than political campaigns — it’s a transcendent moment for Argentine society as it weighs whether rules of marriage should be determined by the church or the state.

Senators will vote first on whether or not to approve a resolution against same sex marriage. If the resolution is voted down, they will vote on a resolution in favor of same-sex marriage. Opponents of gay marriage also offered a civil union measure that gays and lesbians said would represent a major step backward by barring same-sex couples from adopting or undergoing in-vitro fertilization, and by enabling civil servants to refuse to unify couples according to their “conscience.”

“With this any civil servent could declare that blacks and whites can’t join in a civil union, or Catholics and Jews,” Sen. Daniel Filmus complained, calling on fellow lawmakers to show the world how far the society has come. “Argentina is providing a demonstration of its maturity. The society has grown up. We aren’t the same as we were before.”

Associated Press Staff Writers Almudena Calatrava, Debora Rey and Michael Warren contributed to this report.

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