Why Latin America is beating the U.S. to marriage equality

There’s been a lot of surprise in the American media following yesterday’s ruling from the Mexican Supreme Court striking down a ban on same-sex marriage—how is it that a Catholic country in Latin America is way ahead of the United States on gay marriage?

If we paid a little more attention to our hemisphere, we really wouldn’t be that surprised: there’s been an LGBT rights revolution in Latin America that has well surpassed us.

John Aravosis, for example, voices incredulity at this fact over at AMERICAblog:

I never cease to be amazed at how many countries, and which countries, around the world are ahead of the US on this basic civil and human right. I grew up being taught that America was the greatest and freest country on earth…. I’m still blown away that in traditionally Catholic countries, and Latin countries to boot, marriage equality is proceeding ahead of the US.

To review where things stand in Latin America:

  • The first country to legalize marriage through legislative action was Argentina, which passed an Equal Marriage law in 2010. Several municipalities have started performing weddings for foreign couples, making it an engine for advancing same-sex marriage across South America. I took an in-depth look at how this was possible here, here, and here. Continue reading

Bolivia to legalize same-sex marriage before France?

Journalist Bruno Bimbi seems to think it’s possible, thanks to the introduction of a same-sex marriage bill in the Bolivian legislature by a senator from President Evo Morale’s Movimiento al Socialismo party, Hilda Saavedra Serrano.

Saavedra Serrano, who represents the city of Potosí, is proposing legislation to eliminate an apparent contradiction in the Bolivian constitution: On the one hand, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (as part of a long list of protected categories); but, on the other, it expressly defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

In his article on Saavedra Serrano’s bill, Bimbi suggests that this showed the “magical hand of the church” in eleventh-hour machinations. The draft constitution agreed to by the 2007 constitutional assembly draft included no mention of gender in its marriage clause. It was inserted by a special committee before it went up for ratification by plebiscite.

Saavedra Serrano’s bill “reinterprets” the constitution that says the marriage clause does not “prohibit nor limit the fundamental rights set out in the [other] constitutional article,” and that rights of civil marriages “can be exercised by couples comprised of people of different sexes or the same sex, equal in rights and constitutional guarantees.”

If you know Spanish, the senator’s bill is worth a read. She draws on Bolivian law, international convention, and indigenous history to make her case.

I don’t know whether it has a chance of passage, but it’s certainly a mind-bender to imagine Bolivia having more radical marriage laws than US or countries in Western Europe.