Getting Hitched in Buenos Aires: Members of Argentina's Foremost Gay Rights Group Discuss How They Made Buenos Aires the First South American City to Recognize Civil Unions. (Behind the Headlines)

Article excerpt

On December 13, in the midst of a massive social justice movement, Buenos Aires became the first city in Latin America to declare civil union rights for gay and lesbian couples. The 18-year-old activist group Comunidad Homosexual Argentina led the campaign to allow both gay and straight couples who have been together for at least two years to get the same health insurance, hospital visitation rights, and pension benefits that married couples get. The law recognizes the civil union of gay couples but does not term the union a marriage. The Advocate met up with CHA president Cesar Cigliutti, secretary Marcelo Sunthein, and legal adviser Pedro Paradiso in the group's communal loft in Buenos Aires, with coffee, croissants, and cigarettes served for breakfast.

How did you decide to fight for civil unions?

Cigliutti: The cruelty of the police, here in Buenos Aires and in the' whole country, is stunning, particularly with respect to transvestites. Last year, within Buenos Aires, the police detained more than 30 transvestites a night. So we had been trying to develop a legislative strategy about how to fight this. Two years ago we were at this well-known confiteria [a type of cafe] called El Olmo, [and] we decided it was time to push forward the idea of civil unions in Buenos Aires.

It couldn't have been easy.

Cigliutti: When we presented the project to the city's commission on human rights--the first official step--we contacted the media so that they would be there. We didn't know at the time, [but] the commission didn't want to consider the project at all. But with all the media around, they had to. Still, a year and a half passed [before there was an official vote] because they put up absolutely every bureaucratic obstacle you can imagine.

Sunthein: We used maximum pressure. We did escraches [noisy direct action protests]. The legislators got so scared that they had one of the longest sessions in recent history--almost 18 hours, uninterrupted, from 1 P. …