Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Extending Gay Marriage Rights in the Americas



Last week marked an important victory for gay rights in our hemisphere. Seven years after Buenos Aires became the first Latin American city to permit same-sex civil unions, two men legally married in the country’s southern province of Tierra del Fuego.

The couple had originally planned to marry in Buenos Aires, but the wedding was moved after a local judge issued an injunction to block the ceremony. Governor Fabiana Ríos called the marriage “a breakthrough in human rights and social inclusion.”

The Argentine marriage has now been referred to the country’s Supreme Court, but whatever the Court decides, gay couples’ right to marriage is gaining steam.

Almost five years ago, Canada became the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage. Five U.S. states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa—and Washington DC have followed suit. (A lawsuit filed yesterday challenges last month’s legalization of gay marriage in Washington.)

But the most striking development is Mexico City’s legalization of gay marriage with a law approved just before Christmas. It follows the city’s Cohabitation Law from 2006, which had granted same-sex couples marital rights identical to those of heterosexual couples. For Mexico City officials, gay marriage is a civil rights issue as well as a potential source of income. “We are already in talks with some travel agencies that are planning to offer package tours…and everything they need for a wedding,” according to Alejandro Rois, the city tourism secretary. Clearly, preparations are well underway for when the law goes into effect in March.

But there have been a host of setbacks as well, especially when placed before U.S. voters as a referendum. The most recent setback is the New Jersey Senate’s rejection of a gay marriage bill this week and New York’s similar actions last month.

But the most closely watched developments in the United States are coming out of California. A federal trial begins on Monday on whether California’s gay marriage ban (Proposition 8) violates Constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court and could have national reverberations, with one former Clinton White House adviser saying “this could be our Brown vs. Board of Education.”

What’s next for the hemisphere? In 2007, Uruguay was the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex civil unions, and last year, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled that gay couples must have the same rights as heterosexual ones. Ecuador, like Uruguay and Colombia, allows for same-sex unions.

These countries may likely be next up in the hemispheric movement to allow gay couples the same fundamental right as heterosexual ones: the right to marry. After all, equality and non-discrimination are the “pillars of open, tolerant and democratic societies.”

*Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He previously served as senior editor of Americas Quarterly and director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He previously served as senior editor of Americas Quarterly and director of policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

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