The 22nd of July 2010 saw the dawning of a new age for gay rights here in Argentina. The Chamber of Deputies approved nationwide same-sex marriage, which also included the controversial issue of adoption. This makes Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow same sex marriages and the second in the whole of the Americas.
As I watched the dramatic debate unfold in the Senate, I was unsure as to what the final decision would be. The tense discussion between the catholic church, members of the gay community and the Senate left the final decision very uncertain, and in true Argentine fashion, the bill was passed by a tiny margin and after many extra hours of debate. Creating a true reason to celebrate in Argentina!
But I was wondering what is different about Argentina? How come such a bill was passed here Argentina first?
A unique atmosphere exists here in Argentina that aided the passing of the bill. While the church is a dominant figure in Argentina and protested strongly against the bill, it is somewhat separated from the political party. There is no strong Christian Democratic Party as there is in Chile and Venezuela. Inclusively, there is a relatively low weekly church attendance rate, surprisingly only around 22 percent of people go to church weekly. This, however, did not stop the Church from engaging in a strong crusade against the bill, even releasing kids from school to tell parents to protest against gay marriage in congress!
Also, crucially, the inherently flawed national vote on an issue of minority rights was avoided. Instead, the issue was approved first by a court ruling and later by legislative vote, creating an ultimately fairer decision process that has not been found in other parts of the world. Finally, of course the president in Argentina resides supreme. The decision would never have been passed if President Cristina Fernández had not had taken the risk to stand against the church. Whether the decision was taken for altruistic, or for secret selfish motives, only she knows. Perhaps she wanted to regain some ground with the young and urban people of Argentina? Perhaps she was in-keeping with the Peronist tradition of confrontation? Perhaps she finally realised the morality and correctness of gay marriage? Either way, the important point is that she took the risk, and for this she deserves credit. A few days after the bill, she even invited into the Pink House members of gay rights organisations. This too was a historical and gutsy move, reinforcing her stance against the church.
Since then the first few applications for marriages have been trickling through. The first to get married in Buenos Aires were Alejandro Vannelli and actor Ernesto Larrese who took to the altar both wearing black suits. During the historic ceremony, Ernesto spoke to his partner but also to the whole nation:
“To all those who are afraid … those who are homophobic … I tell them, don’t worry; this doesn’t affect you,” Larrese said. “You have nothing to fear. Fear is the opposite of love. Any phobia can be cured with love.”
Since the decision, the general feeling within the public has been very positive, not just within the thriving gay community of Buenos Aires but with the majority of Argentina being very proud of their country’s openness and forwardness.
Regardless of the method, gay marriage is here to stay in Argentina. The passing of the gay rights bill shows how mature and advanced Argentina can be on certain issues, and on the topic of gay rights, it is far ahead of many more “developed” countries such as the USA, and many parts of Europe where same-sex marriage is still not yet recognised. Argentina should be proud of its ever progressing and open stance in the political world. From here on, Buenos Aires will become an ever more gay-friendly, vibrant and culturally diverse place to visit, and obviously, will become a major destination in the $64 billion dollar gay tourism industry.