The National Council of Justice of Brazil, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, ruled yesterday that government licensing offices cannot deny homosexual couples marriage licenses. The ruling is expected to accelerate a law legalizing same-sex marriage in the Brazilian Congress.
Basing their decision on the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling that recognizes same-sex civil unions and guarantees homosexual and heterosexual couples the same rights under the constitution, the council ruling bars notary publics from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling also calls for government licensing offices to convert a civil union into a marriage if requested by the couple. While 14 of Brazil’s 27 states have already legalized same-sex marriage, national legislation has failed to pass the Brazilian Congress, which has a strong religious faction.
Barbosa rejected the notion that a congressional decision was necessary to begin issuing marriage licenses. "Are we going to require the approval of a new law by the Congress to put into effect the decision that was already taken by the Supreme Court? It makes no sense," he said on Tuesday, adding that the high court’s decision should be followed by the lower courts as it “is binding." A challenge of the council’s decision by the Supreme Court is not likely.
Should Congress act and pass legislation regarding same-sex marriage this year, Brazil would follow Argentina and Uruguay and become the third Latin American country to legalize gay marriage.
In a 23 to 8 vote, the Uruguayan Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that brings the country one step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage. If passed, the bill would implement gender-neutral terms in marriage licenses and change the definition of civil marriage to "the permanent union, under the law, of two people of different or the same sex."
The 23 senators who voted in favor of the bill include all of the Broad Front (Frente Amplio—FA) lawmakers, as well as seven opposition senators from the National Party (Partido Nacional) and the Red Party (Partido Colorado). The House of Deputies approved a similar bill last December. Before the bill can become law, the lower chamber will have to ratify the senate amendments.
While the measure has been sharply criticized by the Catholic Church, the bill fits into Uruguayan President José Mujica’s left-leaning policies. President Mujica supports the bill and has committed to signing it into law once it passes the legislature.
If the bill becomes law, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage after Argentina
President Barrack Obama’s pronouncement in favor of gay marriage certainly qualifies as both historic and courageous, not only for its content but also for its timing. Some critics already see some political machinations in this statement, which came shortly after Vice President Joe Biden seemed to indicate support for gay marriage. The polling data, however, would indicate that the president made a somewhat risky move whose ramifications remain uncertain.
The issue of gay marriage has been a polarizing issue more so in America than in my home country of Canada. In the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign cleverly used state referenda on banning gay marriage or defending traditional marriage as an instrument to bring out the religious right in favor the president. Considering the narrow victory by Mr. Bush over Senator John Kerry, it has become conventional wisdom to consider the tactic a success.