Argentina Becomes First Latin American Country to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
Following a historic debate in the Senate that dealt with everything from famous homosexuals, to the Bible and world history, Argentina has become the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, granting the same legal rights, responsibilities and protections that marriage brings to heterosexuals (VIDEO)
BUENOS AIRES – Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, following a historic vote in the Senate that laid bare the country’s deep political and social divisions.
The bill backed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government was approved by a vote of 33-27 with three abstentions after a sometimes heated debate lasting nearly 15 hours, even as supporters and opponents of the initiative demonstrated outside the upper house.
“If we think that 50 years ago women could not vote and not that long ago in the US you couldn’t have interracial marriages, and that in Argentina the only way to get married was in the church, and we found a way to change all that, we can say this is a positive step that defends the rights of minorities,” Fernández de Kirchner said.
Many view Fernández de Kirchner and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner’s support of the bill as a political risk. While the bill had a great deal of support in the capital of Buenos Aires, that was not the case in many other parts of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
“I speak from my religious formation, Catholic, but we aspire with all our strength for the Church to become more modern,” Nestor de Kirchner said
Some of the lawmakers, including government supporter Marcelo Fuentes, took the floor to criticize the Church’s attacks on gay marriage.
In what Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio termed a “war of God” over the legislation, the Church unleashed a concerted campaign that included rallies, fiery sermons, sanctions against dissenting priests and advisory meetings with senators prior to the vote in the heavily Roman Catholic country.
According to Fuentes, the Church’s attitude had “little to do with the deliberation” and “reconciliatory” posture expected of that institution.
The interminable speeches included arguments encompassing a range of viewpoints, including that of one senator, Sonia Escudero, who opposed the bill on the grounds that “the man-woman relationship is fertile, the homosexual relationship is sterile; since it is different, (different rules should apply).”
By contrast, Luis Juez, a self-proclaimed “fanatical” devotee of the Virgin Mary, said that “not even in the Bible can one find a paragraph where Christ got angry with gays.”
Another lawmaker – Chiche Duhalde, wife of former President Eduardo Duhalde – appealed to her colleagues on a personal level, saying that she has “gay friends, gay relatives and I don’t have any problem” with the bill.
During the lengthy debate, some senators lectured on the sexual life of plants and penguins, provided lists of illustrious gays and lesbians, alluded to Argentine and world history and the constitutional guarantee of equality and recounted their personal experiences with matrimony.
One lawmaker referred to members of the gay community as if they were from another planet, saying “they are just like us; they live like we do, feel like we do.”
But one senator, Eugenio Artaza, managed to encapsulate the issue in a single phrase: “Why such a big effort to prevent other people from having the same rights we have?”
Meanwhile, despite the frigid temperatures of the South American winter, hundreds of people held vigil for hours outside Congress while awaiting the final vote.
Holding up large banners with slogans such as “Only a Man and a Woman” and “I Want a Mom and a Dad,” opponents of gay marriage clutched rosaries and prayed for the bill’s defeat.
Opposite them, human and gay rights groups were joined by members of the governing Peronist party in celebrating the Senate’s approval of the bill.
“From today onward, Argentina is a more just and democratic country,” said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender federation.
Passage of the measure, which becomes law after being published in the Official Gazette, erases doubts over an issue that has sparked heated controversy for months in Argentina.
Same-sex civil unions had already been legalized in four Argentine cities, although those arrangements are not equivalent to gay marriage, which typically implies the right to adopt children and inherit wealth from one’s spouse.
Seeking full rights, eight gay and lesbian couples had secured court rulings allowing them to unite in matrimony, although some of those civil marriages were subsequently nullified.
Buenos Aires’ Civil Union law, which was approved in late 2002, was the country’s first legislation on the matter and the first recognition of gay couples in Latin America.
Mexico City’s legislature legalized same-sex marriage last December, but Argentina is the only Latin American country where gay marriage is now permitted nationwide.
BUSINESS TO CAPITALIZE ON REFORMS
Meanwhile, Argentine businesses catering to gay clients enthusiastically are awaiting a new boost to their profits.
If Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, was already a mecca for gay tourism, now business owners in the sector foresee an increase in the arrival of gay visitors, known for their free-spending ways.
“I expect a very positive impact because all my businesses are geared for the gay market. And, of course, a lot of foreign couples will be coming here to get married,” German Arballo, whose holdings include short-term rental properties, wineries and wine shops, told Efe.
He said that in Argentina – which in the first five months of the year welcomed close to a million visitors who spent roughly $1 billion – almost two out of every 10 tourists are gay.
“Buenos Aires replaced Rio de Janeiro as Latin America’s most important city for gay tourism. With the law that allowed civil marriages in Buenos Aires, the influx of gay tourism had already risen to 15% of the total number of tourists, and now that proportion has gone up to almost 18%,” Arballo said.
Brazilians, Americans and Europeans are the majority among gay travelers who choose Argentina, not only for its gay-friendly atmosphere but for the favorable exchange rate.
“The gay tourist spends more and in Argentina even more because the peso is very cheap in relation to the dollar and the euro,” said Arballo, who will use the novelty of the new marriage law to promote his Pilot Gay Wines, which he makes in his own boutique wineries in the provinces of La Rioja and Mendoza.
In his advertising campaign, the vintner will give away to gay couples who marry in Argentina his brand of wines and champagne for the toast at the registrar’s office.
Dario Tamanini, one of the few wedding planners in Argentina specializing in gay nuptials, is getting ready for a boom in his work; on the same day the law was approved authorizing same-sex marriages, he got 10 calls from committed couples interested in organizing their weddings.
“We began last year planning commitment ceremonies for gay friends, who were afraid to hire traditional events companies,” Tamanini, who with two partners founded the company in the very conservative central city of Cordoba, said.
Now that the unions will be legal, Tamanini promises to organize weddings that are “unique and divine,” whether a simple affair in the couple’s house or on a ranch, with the couple arriving in a venerable horse-drawn carriage.
For the honeymoon, gay couples can go for the classic just-married destination in Argentina: Bariloche in the south, a romantic spot surrounded by peaks and pure mountain air.
The first gay-tourism agency in Bariloche has already begun promoting its “Honeymoon Patagonia” touristic package, which promises “hot bubbly jacuzzis” from which new couples “can enjoy to the maximum the panoramic view and all the region of the Lakes of the South.”
They have not as yet sold any honeymoon vacations, but Bariloche Gay Travel expects sales to shoot up as a result of the new statute.
“We’ve had several people asking for information, and now that gay marriage has been legalized we expect to get more contacts related to that package,” owner Cristian Signorelli told Efe.
For Juan Ignacio Riafrecha, manager of the Axel Hotel of Buenos Aires, the first luxury hotel for the gay segment in the Argentine capital, it is still early to quantify how much gay tourism will grow following the approval of the law, but he takes for granted its positive impact because it strengthens the city’s gay-friendly image.
“With this law, Argentina will be in the spotlight and that will have an effect on the tourism sector. We’re going to get something out of all this,” he said.