The law grants same-sex couples all of the same privileges and responsibilities in marriage as heterosexual partners, including the right to inherit property and adopt children. The first same-sex wedding will take place in Buenos Aires on 13th August.
“It is like a dream come true,” said Esteban Paulón, Secretary General of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans (FALGBT). “It means equality…. It means that we have concrete rights.”
Fernández de Kirchner echoed this sentiment at the signing ceremony.
“Today we are a society that is a little more egalitarian than last week,” she said.
But while a survey earlier this month showed that 69% of Argentines supported same-sex marriage, many believe that the federal government had ulterior motives for passing the legislation. They accuse Fernández de Kirchner of promoting a divisive issue in order to consolidate her left-of-center supporters and demonstrate her power by taking a stand against the Catholic Church.
The law cleared the Senate at 4am on 15th July after 14 hours of debate, while protestors rallied outside in near-freezing temperatures. Similar protests were held in seven provinces on 13th July.
“The debate about marriage is not a political debate,” said Gastón Bruno, Vice President of the Cristian Alliance of Evangenical Churches (ACIERA), whose group participated in the protests. “It’s a social debate. It’s an ethical debate. But the government brought it to the political arena and lamentably put lots of pressure on the senators, who created a fictitious majority.”
Congress debated two similar laws last fall, but tabled the discussion after an important legislative session failed to reach quorum, with only one kirchnerite deputy in attendance. The president took no stand on same-sex marriage at the time. The issue regained traction earlier this year once Fernández de Kirchner came out in full support of legalisation.
While Paulón, of FALGBT, acknowledges that the administration’s advocacy was crucial in passing the legislation, he attributed the timing to the fact that the government had to build a majority, both among members of congress and the Argentine people.
“It required time to explain for the people to understand the law,” Paulón said. “It required a period of maturation. We had to work hard to build a consensus.”
While polling results support Paulón’s claim that the bulk of Argentines came to support the legislation, Bruno said that these statistics are misleading. He argued that most people favour granting same-sex couples certain rights like property inheritance, but oppose allowing them to adopt.
“After having various opportunities to talk with the homosexual community, we realized that there were some rights that they demanded that we accepted, as long as those liberties didn’t become superior rights, like adopting children, who should have one father and one mother, and as long as they didn’t alter something logical and natural, like the fact that marriage has been, historically and naturally, between a man and a woman,” Bruno said.
Indeed, the adoption issue had become a rallying cry in recent weeks for the Catholic Church and a handful of other religious organizations that opposed the measure.
These groups came out in favour of an alternative piece of legislation that would have established civil unions throughout the nation, creating a legal status for same-sex couples that would have conferred limited marital privileges while specifically excluding the right to adopt. Civil unions had been legal in Argentina since 2002, but were only recognized in four jurisdictions, including the city of Buenos Aires.
The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (Inadi) announced on 13th July that a civil unions law would infringe civil rights and violate the country’s anti-discrimination laws, making it unconstitutional. The legislation died shortly thereafter.
Paulón noted that the nine senators who proposed the civil unions law only did so once it became clear that the same-sex marriage bill was going to pass.
“The truth is that it [the civil unions project] started as a last-minute project by a faction who were against the law,” Paulón said. “The only reason for the promotion of civil unions was to have an alibi not to pass the marriage law.”
While the legalization of same-sex marriage has only aggravated the bitter division between the Kirchner government and the Catholic Church, some see this as a good thing.
“It was an enormous step for the separation of church and state,” Paulón said, attributing the Church’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage as an attempt to cling to its eroding social and political influence in Argentina. “They used to have control over the lives and the bodies of the people, of their sexuality. It’s [opposing legalisation] the only way left to maintain their former power. They don’t want society to change, to advance.”