Sergio López and Simon Cazal had their wedding reception in Rosario last Friday. Unlike most Latin American weddings, there were no suits or fancy dresses. Instead, the married couple and their guests sported jeans and t-shirts.
In lieu of a big dinner and giant cake, simple empanadas and mini-sandwiches were handed out on trays. And the drink-in-hand speeches focused not just on the couple’s happiness – but on the historic weight of the day.
“I just wanted to say, that lots of things have happened so that you can get married,” one woman said to the crowd of supporters. “And it also means a lot, to activists and people who aren’t here today.”
Thanks to a recent change in Santa Fe’s interpretation of federal laws, people can now get married in the province without holding residency or citizenship. And because of that change, last Friday Cazal and López – both from Paraguay – became the first same-sex foreigners to get married in Argentina.
Through most of Argentina, people have to fulfill residency or citizenship requirements in order to marry. As such, if a couple wants to tie the knot, they have to live in one spot for months before they can. A few weeks ago, Santa Fe’s left-leaning government resolved to change their interpretation of federal legislation, making the province the first in the country to allow people to marry after only 96 hours within their borders. This province argues that a residency requirement for marriage is unconstitutional.
While the new interpretation is not particularly significant for heterosexual couples – most foreigners can get married in their own country without problems – the move has big implications for same-sex couples.
Now, this perfect union of policy and law makes Santa Fe the only place in the world besides Canada where two foreigners of the same sex can get married soon after arrival.
Argentina’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) Federation president Esteban Paulón said the decision is important in many respects. He said at the top of that list is the fact that Santa Fe is sharing its rights with all the people of the world. “Here, we have equal marriages for same-sex couples – anyone who wants to get married is welcome,” he said.
Kurt Michael Hall and Fredd Zimmerman run the Buenos Aires Out & About Gay Pub Crawl. Hall is from the United States; Zimmerman is from Spain. While the two have spent years in Argentina and have been partners for a long time, neither is a citizen nor permanent resident. Because of the new law, the pair now have the option of getting married in Argentina.
It may be a while before the two get hitched – if at all – but they both said it is wonderful that the option is there for all people in same-sex relationships. Hall also said there are no borders to love, whether in regards to sex, race or nationality. “These are boundaries that people draw, that people make up,” he said. “The lines of the earth are the lines of society. When it comes to marriage, none of those lines should exist.”
The monumental change will also affect the business community, especially those businesses that focus on a LGBT clientele.
Laetitia Orsetti runs Fabulous Weddings in Buenos Aires, a wedding planning company that focuses on gay and other “fabulous” marriages. “It’s the best news I could ever hear,” she said when she found out about the new legal interpretation. “Argentina is really becoming the mecca of gay tourism in South America.”
As the organiser of the world’s first same-sex wedding fashion show last year, Orsetti’s eyes lit up when the gravity of the decision set in. Within minutes, wedding and honeymoon options for foreigners were rolling out of her mind. Visiting wine country in Mendoza. Laying on the beach in Uruguay. “The options are endless,” she said. “I think this is going to increase tourism and the economy of Argentina. It’s going to be beneficial for everyone.”
As the first Latin American country to allow same-sex unions and the only one to allow full marriages, she noted that providing gay tourists access to marriages gives Argentina another foot-up on other countries in the region. “It shows that it’s much more involved an open-minded,” she said. “There are ten countries in the world [with legal same-sex marriage] and Argentina will be the cheapest. And look at the country – it’s amazing.”
In a Canadian court room this past January, an initially low-key decision almost changed the legal status of thousands of foreigners who took advantage of Canada’s lax marriage laws.
Two women – one from England and the other from the US– who married in Canada in 2005, tried to get a divorce. They were unable to do it in their own countries, as the marriage was not recognised in either place, and so they returned to Canada. At first, reports in the media said the government lawyer argued the two could not get a divorce because they were not legally married. The country’s laws stated that in order to get a divorce, foreigners have to live within Canada for a year, and the marriage has to be recognised in their home countries. After uproar from citizens and extensive coverage in the media, the Canadian government announced it would change its divorce laws related to foreigners, and ensured that all marriages that happened within its borders would remain legal.
“People will get married here in Argentina, and eventually we will have to see if they ask for [a divorce],” Paulón said. “If there is a violation of rights or something in their countries, we will work to resolve it.”
He noted as an example that there have been legal steps to right the wrongs of the past with regards to same-sex marriage. He pointed out that when Argentina legalised it, they also retroactively recognised the weddings people had in places like Canada and Spain before 2010. “There are distinct situations,” Paulón noted.
The Next Steps
With a big grin on his face, Cazal expressed how he was feeling at the reception. “I’m tired,” he said, putting his arm around López. And because Paraguay, the couple’s home, does not recognise same-sex marriages, their work has just begun. They said when they return, they will work to make their union legal in their home country.
“The fight will continue,” López said at his wedding reception. “This is the launching point. We are counting on the support of everybody here. Here things have changed. We need to break the borders and soon the limits will disappear.”
Paulón said this union is just the first step to getting same-sex marriages recognised throughout Latin America. “[The Argentine marriage equality law] contributes to the advancement of similar laws in other countries,” he said.
To get there, he said the next big step is to change the way people think about same-sex marriage. “It’s time for different days – it’s time for debate, convincing, policies and visibility,” he said. “One thing is legal equality. It’s another to make social change.”
To see what Argentines think about foreign same-sex couples getting married in the country, click here.