Latin America’s gay marriage revolution

Published by Foreign Policy Magazine.

In his second inaugural address, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to make the United States a beacon for the world by recommitting the country to its ideals of equality. He also made history by saying those ideals demand marriage rights for same-sex couples just as they have demanded equal citizenship for women and African Americans.

But even if the Supreme Court or lawmakers soon agree with Obama’s words — “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well” — the United States will be a latecomer to advancing marriage rights. The world’s leaders on this issue are not just from places Americans might expect — Western Europe or Canada — but many countries in our own hemisphere; places not usually known for progressivism on social issues. While Obama was undergoing his “evolution” on marriage rights, there has been a gay rights revolution that has stretched from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande.

One dramatic illustration: When a broad coalition of human-rights activists brought a gay rights charter to the United Nations in 2007, the push was led not by the likes of Sweden or the Netherlands, but by Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. Same-sex marriage was not legal in any of these countries then, but a lot has changed in the years since. Continue reading

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

Marriage bill passes committee in Colombian Senate

A law to legalize same-sex marriage in Colombia passed its first test in the Colombian Senate on Tuesday, clearing committee on a 10-to-5 vote.

It now heads to the full Senate, where its sponsor, Armando Benedetti, believes it has a good shot at passage.

The road to final passage remains rocky, however. Even if it makes it through the Senate, it still will face stiff opposition in the House.

Colombian congress president apologizes for member’s “excremental sex” remarks

During a kiss-in protest Tuesday by Colombian LGBT activists, the president of the country’s Congress offered an apology for anti-gay remarks by Senator Roberto Gerlein.

“As President of the Senate, I offer public apologies to all the country’s LGBTI community for the discriminatory remarks of one of the members of Congress. Here all personal opinions are respected, but we do not accept discriminatory acts,” said the president of the Congress, Roy Barreras.

Meanwhile, conservative Senator Hernán Andrade called for a counter-protest in support of Gerlein. In a tweet, he called for a “classical and formal” kiss-in of men and women in the Plaza de Bolivar at 3 pm Wednesday. No word yet on the turnout.

Dust-up in Colombia over “excremental sex” continues

Conservative Colombian Senator Roberto Gerlein may have given an unintentional boost to supporters of a gay marriage bill. He’s certainly made himself the center of controversy rather than the bill itself.

“Definitely Gerlein´s comments could help the discussion in the Congress. People are really angry,” said Mauricio Albarracín of Colombia Diversa via email.

Gerlein shut down debate on the measure last week after expressing his revulsion at sex between men, calling it, “dirty, repulsive, it is sex that deserves condemnation and is excremental sex.”

Now some liberal members of Congress are demanding he be investigated for violating the country’s antidiscrimination laws, though even some of his enemies say he should have parliamentary immunity.

Gerlein defended his comments:

Tell me how I’ve discriminated and against who because I don’t agree with gay marriage? I’ve only repudiated behavior repudiated by much more than half of Colombians… I clearly explained that by my criteria the problem of being gay is a genetic problem.

Gerlein’s critics are trying to make it an issue in the reappointment of the Procuradoría General, Alejandro Ordóñez, who oversees disciplinary action for civil servants.

He’s up for reelection this week and is widely expected to win.

Anti-Gay tirade shuts down Colombian marriage debate

The first debate on legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Colombia was postponed after conservative Senator Roberto Gerlein went on a 20-minute rant.

Highlights included his denunciation of sex between men as “dirty, repulsive, it is sex that deserves condemnation and is excremental sex” and his psychological theory that “the homosexual has a smaller hypothalamus.”

Bogota’s “Councilman of the Family” flees Colombia fearing for his safety

Bogotá city Councilman Marco Fidel Ramírez—who calls himself the “Councilman of the Family”—put out a release on Friday saying he was leaving the country out of fear for his safety.

The dramatic departure comes after he presided over a hearing Thursday targeting LGBT programming on the city’s public television station, Canal Capital. He demanded the channel’s director, Hollman Morris, turn over a list of all its LGBT employees.

Morris refused, and the councilman came under some strong attacks from his colleagues, including from Angélica Lozano. In Friday’s statement, he implied that this was part of the reason he felt unsafe remaining in the country.

I have been heavily attacked by the very system of Capital News, and politically and religiously persecuted by the district administration, through several of its officials … which leads me to leave the country for protection of my integrity.

This reads to me more like a political stunt since he doesn’t mention any direct phyiscal threats. Nevertheless, Councilwoman Lozano put out a statement saying she “laments any threats” against Marco Fidel Ramírez.

Legislating under court order: Colombia and gay marriage

Senador Armando Benedetti

Senador Armando Benedetti

The day after U.S. voters approved gay marriage in three states and the French government adopted legislation of its own, I was offered an interview with the sponsor of gay marriage legislation in the Colombian Senate. I got the email just a couple hours before I needed to be at the capitol, and I wasn’t in the best shape for the meeting. I’d gotten about four hours sleep because I was up late watching the U.S. election returns, I was experiencing acute intestinal distress, and I didn’t have even a basic understanding of the politics in Bogotá. But I jumped at the chance and spent the next several hours cramming.

The day was an odd one for LGBT politics in the Colombian capital. There had been a showdown that morning in the Bogotá city council between councilman Marco Fidel Ramirez and the director of the local public television channel, Hollman Morris. Ramirez, who objected to pro-LGBT programming on the channel, had demanded a list of all of its LGBT employees.

Having committed the president’s name and the partisan split of the Senate to memory, I walked down to the capitol. Continue reading

Colombian priest considers suing church over gay wedding

Things are getting a little weird in Cartago.

This Colombia town made headlines earlier this month when a Catholic priest, Alberto Piedrahíta, celebrated a gay wedding, complete with filing the official paperwork registering the couple’s union.

Piedrahíta was immediately denounced by the bishop, Monseñor Alejandro Castaño, who released a statement saying that Piedrahíta was ordained in Canada, making his religious ceremonies in the area illegal. He should be considered a “vagabond priest, because he is not in communion with the Diocese of Cartago and therefore not allowed to celebrate,” the bishop said, according to El Pais. He also called on people to boycott any religious ceremonies Piedrahíta performs.

Piedrahíta subsequently told a local paper that he was now consulting with lawyers about the possibility of suing the Diocese of Cartago because “they have violated my human rights. I have also the right to work, the right to freedom of religion, [and] freedom of expression.”

This controversy comes as the country’s Senate is at work on gay marriage legislation, which the high court ordered it to pass by 2013.

Marriage law introduced in Colombia

A lot of marriage movement today.

The Spanish-language gay news site DosManzanas.com reports that a legislator in Colombia, Alba Luz Pinilla, has introduced a same-sex marriage law.

The Congress is required to act under a 2011 ruling by the Colombian Constitutional Court that required equal rights be extended to same-sex couples within two years.

This ruling was the latest in a series of rulings defending gay couples’ rights: in 2003, the court granted gay prisoners the right to conjugal visits; in 2007, it extended the rights equivalent to those of common-law marriages, and in 2008 guaranteed inheritance rights.