Argentina: First Same-Sex Marriage in Latin America

(IPS) – After a months-long legal battle, two gay men in Argentina became the first homosexuals to marry in Latin America, in a wedding that took place in the southernmost province, Tierra del Fuego, the only one governed by a woman.

"We’re the first, but we won’t be the last," said Alex Freyre, who married José Maria Di Bello Monday in Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego, more than 3,000 km south of Buenos Aires. "There are hundreds of legal appeals that we hope will have the same outcome," he said.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and several states in the U.S., and same-sex civil unions are legal in a number of other countries. But this was the first gay marriage in Latin America.

Earlier this month, the Mexico City legislative assembly approved changes to the local civil code, replacing the clause that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman with one that says it is a union "between two people." But actual weddings will not start taking place until the reform goes into effect next year.

Freyre and Di Bello’s wedding was held without any previous announcement in Ushuaia, after their first attempt in Buenos Aires fell through on Dec. 1.

In April, the couple, who belong to the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans (LGBT), had been denied a marriage license in Buenos Aires. Along with other members of the Federation whose applications for a license had been denied, they filed an appeal.

In November, Buenos Aires Judge Gabriela Seijas ruled in the case that the civil code’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, and ordered that the two men be granted a marriage license. The Buenos Aires government did not appeal the decision.

However, another court filed an injunction on the eve of the wedding that blocked it from taking place in Buenos Aires. A final decision is pending in the Supreme Court.

But Freyre and Di Bello were determined to get married this year. Aware that Tierra del Fuego Governor Fabiana Ríos had backed different initiatives in favour of same-sex marriage, they applied for a marriage license in that province, which was also denied.

But when they complained to higher-ranking authorities, the governor intervened, ordering that the initial Buenos Aires court ruling be honoured and that they be allowed to marry in the civil registry office.

"I didn’t do anything extraordinary. I merely complied with the law; the right of two people who had a ruling in their favour could not be denied," said Ríos.

The campaign for "the same rights with the same names" was launched by the LGBT Argentine Federation before Freyre and Di Bello appealed to the courts. But since Seijas ruled in their favour, the movement has gathered momentum and more than 30 appeals have been filed around the country.

"This shows that the demand for the same recognition and protection from the state for same-sex couples is a national demand, and both the justice system and Congress must listen to the clamour and grant them the same rights," María Rachid, president of the LGBT Federation, told IPS.

Two years ago, Rachid and her partner Claudia Castro filed legal action claiming the right to be granted a marriage license. They were the first to demand the right to marry under the same law that governs heterosexual marriages, rather than as a civil union, which are legal in some districts.

But unlike Freyre and Di Bello, they did not obtain a favourable ruling. They appealed, and their case is now before the Supreme Court, which they say could set a precedent that would pave the way for the legalisation of same-sex marriage nationwide.

In the meantime, the LGBT Federation has been behind the introduction of several bills that would modify the civil code along the lines of the Mexico City reform: by eliminating the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman. But the draft reforms have faced stiff political and religious resistance.

However, the campaign has received strong backing from the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), whose director, Claudio Morgado, was one of the witnesses at Monday’s wedding, and which also offered the support of its legal teams throughout the country to help other couples secure the right to get married.

According to a survey by the pollster Analogías, 66 percent of respondents were in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, while 57 percent of those who defined themselves as Catholics rejected the Catholic Church stance against marriage between homosexuals.