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December 29, 2009

Another country of firsts: Argentina’s First Same Sex Marriage

Argentina First Gay Marriage (Photo-Tierra del Fuego/Reuters)

Argentina First Gay Marriage (Photo-Tierra del Fuego/Reuters)

After a months-long legal battle, two gay men in Argentina became the first homosexuals to marry in Latin America, in a wedding that took place in the southernmost province, Tierra del Fuego, the only one governed by a woman.

“We’re the first, but we won’t be the last,” said Alex Freyre, who married José Maria Di Bello Monday in Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego, more than 3,000 km south of Buenos Aires. “There are hundreds of legal appeals that we hope will have the same outcome,” he said.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden with the US lagging behind with same sex marriage only being legal in Vermont, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut & Washington DC & New Hampshire. (Did you know there are 40 US states with laws on the books stating that marriage is between a man and women)?  In spite of these positive developments, this Argentina marriage represents the first gay marriage in Latin America.

Earlier this month, the Mexico City legislative assembly approved changes to the local civil code, replacing the clause that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman with one that says it is a union “between two people.” But actual weddings will not start taking place until the reform goes into effect next year.   For a highly catholic country, this is an amazing development.

Freyre and Di Bello’s wedding was held without any previous announcement in Ushuaia, after their first attempt in Buenos Aires fell through on Dec. 1.   In April, the couple, who belong to the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans (LGBT), had been denied a marriage license in Buenos Aires. Along with other members of the Federation whose applications for a license had been denied, they filed an appeal.  In November, Buenos Aires Judge Gabriela Seijas ruled in the case that the civil code’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, and ordered that the two men be granted a marriage license. The Buenos Aires government did not appeal the decision.

However, another court filed an injunction on the eve of the wedding that blocked it from taking place in Buenos Aires. A final decision is pending in the Supreme Court.   But Freyre and Di Bello were determined to get married this year. Aware that Tierra del Fuego Governor Fabiana Ríos had backed different initiatives in favour of same-sex marriage, they applied for a marriage license in that province, which was also denied.   But when they complained to higher-ranking authorities, the governor intervened, ordering that the initial Buenos Aires court ruling be honoured and that they be allowed to marry in the civil registry office.  “I didn’t do anything extraordinary. I merely complied with the law; the right of two people who had a ruling in their favour could not be denied,” said Ríos.

The campaign for “the same rights with the same names” was launched by the LGBT Argentine Federation before Freyre and Di Bello appealed to the courts. But since Seijas ruled in their favour, the movement has gathered momentum and more than 30 appeals have been filed around the country.

According to a survey by the pollster Analogías, 66 percent of respondents were in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, while 57 percent of those who defined themselves as Catholics rejected the Catholic Church stance against marriage between homosexuals.

I think this is great for Latin America and for Argentina and continues to show how the US is really behind the times when it comes to granting basic civil rights to all.

Thomas (Timeline information provided by IPS Reporter Marcela Valente)

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