Argentina: Congress Passes Marriage-Equality Law

Article excerpt

In the pre-dawn hours of July 15, after a 15-hour uninterrupted session, three months of debate in various legislative committees, and a three-year campaign by the homosexual community, the Argentine Senate approved a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry under the same conditions as heterosexual couples. Argentina became the tenth country to recognize marriage equality.

In closing the legislative debate, Partido Socialista (PS) Sen. Ruben Giustiniani summed up the sentiments of the majority of Argentines: "This is a historic day, which will be recorded as a positive milestone by a Congress that decided to move past discrimination and give rights to those who don't have them."

Hours later, in the first radio programs of the day, Bishop Hector Aguer reiterated the position that the Catholic Church had maintained since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, called the faithful to wage "God's war" to block approval of the law. "It was a victory for the devil. There is a group within the political sectors that denies the natural order and tries to change the essence of marriage and the family," said Aguer each time he was questioned by radio hosts. Giustiniani and the Catholic Church represented, that day, the two poles that cut through Argentine society, beyond ideologies, political parties, social strata, ethnic groups, and creeds.

Same-sex couples gain all rights derived from marriage

From now on, not only may same-sex couples marry, they have the rights of adoption, inheritance, succession, pension, retirement, and social work (a program financed by the state, employers, and workers that provides them and their families with health care).

The equal-marriage law implies a series of changes in the Civil Code. It modifies the traditional formula of heterosexual marriage. No longer will it refer to "husband and wife"; from now on it will be "persons united in marriage."

The crux of the change is a phrase added to Article 172 of the code: "Matrimony will have the same requirements and effects regardless of whether the persons marrying are of the same sex or of different sexes." The other modifications are a direct consequence of Article 172 and basically consist of a change in terminology. Rather than "husband and wife," it will say "persons marrying"; "father and mother" will be replaced by the word "parents." The law also defines bases for new forms of maternity, such as that of lesbian couples with children produced by in vitro fertilization.

The equal-marriage bill was introduced in Congress by sectors of the progressive opposition to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's administration. It was approved in April by the lower house with the support of lawmakers from all parties, whose votes were split, as later occurred in the Senate.

Strong Catholic Church opposition fails to block law

However, when the bill moved to the Senate for consideration, beginning with the pounding from the Catholic Church, the opposition campaign centered on attacking the government. In the days leading up to the vote, the bishops carried out, basically outside the capital, an aggressive campaign that even included physical threats against senators who voted for the bill.

In the central province of Cordoba, the second-largest in the country, the archbishop stripped Fr. Nicolas Alessio of his clerical faculties and began a canonical trial against him. Since early June he has not been allowed to say mass because he publicly supported the bill. In recent weeks, the country experienced a situation similar to that in 1985, when the vote on the bill to legalize divorce polarized society and left the Church alone.

The political ultraright, allied with the Catholic Church, quickly adopted the language used by Cardinal Bergoglio in a June 22 letter to the Carmelite nuns: "We fervently pray that they [the senators] defend the Argentine family at this time. …