Buenos Aires Offers Same-Sex Marriage to Foreign Couples

(IPS) – Foreign non-residents, gay or straight, can now get married in the Argentine capital, thanks to a resolution that removed bureaucratic obstacles and streamlined the procedure.

Since same-sex marriage was approved in Argentina in July 2010, many homosexual couples from abroad have sought information about travelling to the city – not to settle here, but to legalise their bond and later push for official recognition of their new marriage certificate in their countries of origin.

But the process was bogged down in red tape, and civil registry regulations had to be modified to make it possible to meet the new level of demand. That was first done in the eastern province of Santa Fe, which in March authorised the marriage of foreigners who had spent a minimum of just 96 hours in the country.

A gay Paraguayan couple, Simón Cazal and Sergio López Centurión, immediately travelled to Rosario, the main city in that province, to get married. To indicate her support for the measure, socialist Mayor Mónica Fein was one of the witnesses to the wedding.

Cazal and López Centurión are gay activists who are trying to get their marriage legally recognised in their country.

Next to follow suit was Tierra del Fuego, Argentina’s southernmost province, which also eliminated the requisite that a couple must be permanent residents in the country. The eastern province of Buenos Aires then did the same.

Alex Greenwich of Australia and Victor Hoeld of Germany are gay rights activists who live in Sydney, Australia and wanted to get married in Buenos Aires. However, the authorities required an identity document for foreigners, which takes at least three months to obtain.

After running up against that hurdle, they applied for a marriage licence in La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires, where a resolution was adopted allowing foreign couples to marry without an Argentine identity card.

Their wedding was attended by some 40 family members and friends from Australia, Germany and the United States, and received broad coverage from the local press and from the media in Australia, where it has fuelled a lively debate.

In response to these precedents and to pressure from local activists, the city of Buenos Aires agreed to adopt the same changes. Now foreign non-residents can marry simply by presenting their passports and the address where they are staying in the country.

The new regulations also instruct civil servants to schedule the marriage ceremonies of foreign couples quickly, so that they do not have to wait more than five days after applying for the licence, in order not to “undermine the spirit” of the same-sex marriage law.

“Before this, we were already receiving inquiries from foreigners every week. But now with this Buenos Aires resolution, requests are going to rain down on us,” activist Alejandro Nasif, with the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals (LGBT), told IPS.

The Federation has worked hard to expand these rights in Argentina, and to foreign couples as well, seeing the law as an instrument that can be used to force changes in the national legislation of other countries.

A report presented this week in Geneva by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) indicates that same-sex marriage is legal in only 10 countries around the world: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.

The report was presented on the occasion of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is celebrated on May 17 because homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization (WHO) on that date in 1990.

The report also reveals that same-sex couples are allowed to adopt children in just 12 countries in the world – including Argentina. By contrast, 78 countries still have legislation criminalising same-sex consensual sexual acts between adults. In five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – such acts are punishable by death.

Since the law on same-sex marriage was passed in 2010, more than 4,000 same-sex couples have married in Argentina.

Bills on same-sex civil unions or marriage are being debated in other countries in the region, while progress towards equality is advancing along other lines in yet others.

In Brazil, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of recognising the same rights for same-sex civil unions as for marriages. Nasif explained that a constitutional amendment would be needed to legalise same-sex marriage in Brazil.

“In Uruguay (where same-sex civil unions are legal), Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile there are bills on same-sex marriage that have varied levels of support. And in Colombia, some progress has been made in the courts. That’s why we receive constant inquiries from couples who want to come and get married in Argentina,” he said.

But in the few countries in the world where same-sex marriage is legal, foreigners must be permanent residents in order to qualify. The new regulations in several provinces make Argentina the first country in the world to eliminate that requisite.

“It’s very likely that because Buenos Aires is such an accessible, attractive city, this resolution will draw many couples to come and get married here; not only homosexuals but heterosexuals as well,” Nasif said.

In the Argentine capital, the authorities had refused to allow that possibility, arguing that it would foment gay marriage tours to the city. But they finally understood that they had to stop resisting, the activist said.

“What’s the problem if a tourist market opens up for foreign couples who want to come and get married in Buenos Aires, Rosario or Tierra del Fuego? A tourist niche will emerge, but we don’t see that as a bad thing,” he said.