While the Judiciary expanded gay rights, the Legislature was considering a statute that limits the definition of a couple as only that of a man and woman. At the center of the debate are the anxieties of Brazilian society.
Originally published on March 27, 2015
Photo: Toni Reis (at left), children Alysson and Jéssica, husband David Harrad, and youngest child Felipe. “I won my husband and my children. Now I feel like a full citizen, who believes in institutions. We have the utmost power of the Judiciary as our guardian.”
Ten years after a long judicial battle, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) published an unprecedented decision this month, recognizing the right of homosexual couples to adopt children. Educator Toni Reis, his husband, translator David Harrad, and their three children, Alysson (14), Jéssica (9), and Felipe (8), have finally been considered a family. The court’s favorable position helps to endorse the historic judgment of 2011, in which then-president of the STF, Carlos Ayres Britto, emphasized that the Federal Constitution does not distinguish between families led by heterosexual couples and those led by homosexual ones.
The decision, considered emblematic, will open up a precedent for other homosexual couples who want to adopt. “If the Justice Department has started to acknowledge it, then it’s because an attitude has already consolidated within society,” says jurist Maria Berenice Dias of the National Institute of Family Law (Ibdfam).
Contrary to the way the Judiciary has been going, which is in the vanguard of family law, the Legislature recently created a special commission to discuss the proposed law known as the Family Statute, that defines the family entity as “a social nucleus formed from the union between a man and a woman.” But, ultimately, what does Brazilian society think about the configuration of the 21st-century family?
The reaction of Brazilians in relation to different types of families can also be gauged following the broadcast of a romantic scene, portrayed by actresses Fernanda Montenegro and Nathália Timberg, both 85 years of age, in the soap opera “Babilônia” (Babylon) by Rede Globo. Reactions to their homosexual kiss overran social media and caused the Evangelical Parliamentary Front (FPE) of the National Congress to publish a statement of repudiation. “The soap opera clearly intends to offend Christians with their convictions and principles, wanting to bring the fad they call `another form of love’ to almost all of Brazilian society.” The statement further claims that the scene directly attacks the “natural family.”
“It is a point of view replete with prejudice,” says psychologist Célia Mazza de Souza. “Whenever we are nearing change, we face resistance and, in this case, the reaction was even stronger against the portrayal of two elderly women, which generated a double prejudice.” For Célia, Western society has lived under patriarchal influence for a long time, when only the father was the provider and the head of the family. “The arrangements that we find today are not due to a crisis of the family as an institution, but a reflection of societal changes.”
The story of Toni Reis and David Harrad is an example of these changes. It began in 2005, when the couple applied for adoption through the Juvenile Court of Curitiba. The judge decided in favor of the request, but imposed restrictions. The adopted children would have to be girls and be more than ten years old.
Some time later, minister Carmen Lúcia denied the extraordinary appeal of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. “To delimit the sex and the age of a gay couple’s adopted child is to transform the sublime filial relationship into an act of charity stemming from social obligation and totally devoid of love and commitment,” asserted the judge-rapporteur. “The decision showed that the concept of inclusion was recognized by the Justice Department, even though Congress tries to paint people with a single brush,” affirms Maria Berenice of Ibdfam. “The right to paternity changed my conception of everything,” says Reis. “This decision will be a reference for other instances. We can’t have laws for only one type of family.”
According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), there are 3,701 marriages between same-sex couples in Brazil. Despite this significant number, the proposed law authored by deputy Anderson Ferreira (PR-Party of the Republic/Pernambuco) moves to disqualify this group from being considered a family. “The Statute has as its objective to guarantee what is in the Constitution. Their values are upside-down and the majority of the society is not accepting it,” he says. “The LGBT Movement is trying to embed a new family format as if it were the standard.”
Though a more conservative portion of society exists, different family configurations are more and more commonplace. “There are single mothers, stable same-sex unions, marriages, multi-parent families; therefore, the law cannot limit the acknowledgment that already exists in practice,” affirms Suzana Viegas, professor of civil law at the University of Brasilia. “Family does not necessarily imply blood relations.” The government powers reflect a divergence that still divides the country today.
Luiz Mott, an anthropologist at the Federal University of Bahia, considers the Family Statute a step backwards. “It is unacceptable that antiquated models like these are taken forward,” he argues. “Even with the wave of conservatism, society is able to react with public movements at moments when intolerance becomes overt. The world is moving towards diversity.”