BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize gay marriage Thursday, granting same-sex couples all the legal rights, responsibilities and protections that marriage brings to heterosexuals.
The law’s passage – a priority for President Cristina Fernandez’s government – has inspired activists to push for similar laws in other countries, and a wave of gay weddings are expected in Buenos Aires. Some gay business leaders are predicting an economic ripple effect from an increase in tourism among gays and lesbians who will see Argentina as an even more attractive destination.
But it also carries political risks for Fernandez and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner. The vote divided their governing coalition, and while gay rights have strong support in the capital, anti-gay feelings still run strong in much of Argentine society, where the vast majority of people are Roman Catholic.
The 33-27 Senate vote was tallied shortly before dawn after a marathon debate.
The approval came despite a concerted campaign by the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups, which drew 60,000 people to march on Congress. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio led the campaign, saying “children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother.”
Opponents of gay marriage proposed a civil-union law instead that would have barred gays from adopting or undergoing in-vitro fertilization to have children, and enabled any civil servant to “conscientiously object” to register gay couples. In the end, parliamentary maneuvers kept the Senate from voting on civil unions as the government bet all or nothing on the more politically difficult option of marriage.