The Vatican more liberal than the US bishops on same-sex marriage?

The Vatican’s top official on family life endorsed legal protections for same-sex couples in his first public press conference in the Vatican earlier this week. Reporting on the first Vaitican press conference by the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Religion News Service wrote:

Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of “cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,” and that their number is growing. Paglia suggested that nations could find “private law solutions” to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, “to prevent injustice and make their life easier.”

He also said he would “like the church to fight against” sodomy laws in the nations where they’re still in effect.

Paglia, of course, reiterated a firm opposition to recognizing same-sex marriages, saying, “The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman.”

But if his statements truly reflect the church’s official position, then the Holy See now seems to be to the left of its bishops in many countries—including the United States.

Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly sent a missive to the White House threatening to help block an immigration reform package if it would smooth the immigration path for same-sex partners of American citizens.

The USCCB would not make the letter public, but the bishops’ spokesperson, Sister Mary Anne Walsh, told the Associated Press that inclusion of these provisions—which have been endorsed by the White House—could “jeopardizes passage of the bill.” This threat is shocking because immigration reform has been a major priority for the U.S. church, and one of the few big issues in which it has seen eye-to-eye with the Democratic Party.

The immigration reform package recently unveiled by President Barack Obama proposes treating “same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

The Chilean Church has also staked out a position to the right of this new line from the Vatican in its fight against President Sebastián Piñera’s proposal to provide some protections to same-sex couples, called “Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja.” This translates more or less to a Life Partnership Agreement, and it would be a civil contract that mostly protects the property rights of same-sex couples.

During a hearing last month in the Chilean senate, Bishop Juan Ignacio González testified that even this level of protection would lead to “the destruction of human beings and …. destruction to social and family peace among men.”

Similarly, Catholic hierarchy helped kill a Costa Rican civil union law late last year, pronouncing that recognition of same-sex couples “distorts the perception of fundamental moral values and undermines the institution of marriage.”

Of course, it’s an open question whether Paglia actually is voicing church policy or whether the church intends to follow his words with actions. His call to decriminalize sodomy seems especially contradictory given that the pope gave a special blessing in December to the member of parliament from Uganda who is pushing the “Kill the Gays” bill.

We have seen some softening of the hard-line against protections for same-sex couples in countries where the church is losing the fight over same-sex marriage. In Uruguay, for example, where the Congress is expected to pass an “Equal Marriage Law” this spring, the country’s top bishop has endorsed civil unions, hoping to head off full marriage rights.

The Vatican may be similarly moderating its line as it sees how quickly it is losing the marriage debate on its home continent. It will be interesting to see how long bishops in other places where the same-sex marriage movement is gaining ground—including the United States—will hold onto their hardline position.

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

Uruguayan Senate postpones marriage vote til April

The Uruguayan Senate was supposed to give final ratification to the country’s Equal Marriage Bill Wednesday afternoon. But then the chamber unanimously agreed to postpone the vote until April, according to UltimaHora.com.

This is a surprise since the law overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives earlier this month. But it sounds like opposition senators are mounting a fierce counteroffensive, accusing the ruling Frente Amplio party of “authoritarianism” for accelerating the timetable for passage.

Overwhelming majority backs gay marriage in Uruguay’s House

Eighty-one of the 99 members of Uruguay’s lower house voted in favor of same-sex marriage Tuesday night. It now heads to the Senate, where LGBT activists expect it will pass early next year.

The press coverage of the debate shows the long shadow still cast by Argentina’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010. The emotional highlight of the seven-hour session seems to have been the reading of a letter from the son of a gay father in Argentina, which was written during the run-up to the Argentine vote. Daniel Lezana wrote in 2010:

[My father], when he marries, he is going to do it with another gay, who feels the same as he does…. He’s not going to marry the heteros—what are they afraid of? That the gays are a plague that are going to infect us? If my father marries, both [my fathers] will be able to sign letters from school, either can come to my school meetings. I want to have the same rights as my classmates, and if (my dads) separate, [I want] to have the same rights that the children of [straight] separated parents have. Their children have [these rights] and I don’t—why?

Uruguay’s House to vote today on Equal Marriage Bill

Uruguay’s House of Representatives is due to take up a bill to legalize gay marriage this afternoon. If I’m navigating the website right, the debate will be broadcast live here.

The bill’s supporters are confident it will pass. Mauricio Coitiño of the LGBT rights group Colectivo Ovejas Negras emailed me after the vote was scheduled, “We’ll surely be celebrating on Tuesday.”

Coitiño said the bill, which is backed by the ruling party, has the votes for passage in the House. The Senate isn’t likely to vote on the bill until the coming year, but he’s not worried about its fate in that chamber.

If it becomes law, Uruguay will be the second nation in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage through congressional action.

The bill comes to a vote with support from even some politicians on the right.  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

Catholic = Anti-Gay Marriage? Not quite.

Watching the post-election fallout while reporting on gay marriage in Latin America has been a little bizarre. With Latinos in the United States actually giving President Obama an even greater portion of their support this time around, there’s a lot of head-scratching from the pundits at home. Latinos are supposed to be Catholic, right? And Catholics aren’t supposed to like gay marriage, right? And that means they should punish Obama for his support of gay marriage, right?

The politics of the issue in Latin America presents a similar paradox. Despite the fact that most of Latin America is heavily Catholic—and increasingly evangelical in many places—the region is well ahead of the United States in recognizing same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

Even though there’s no sign that the church is fading as a political institution, it seems to have lost a lot of traction on this issue—among American Catholics, Latin American Catholics, and, well, European Catholics, too. (Spain and Portugal were among the first to legalize gay marriage, and France is also on its way. And, sure, Europe is more secular, but it’s still worth noting the trend.) Sometimes the courts are ahead of public opinion in pushing things along, but the countries’ Catholicness doesn’t seem to be putting major breaks on the issue.

In Latin America, it’s striking that the church is increasingly throwing its weight behind civil unions in order to head off marriage, a shift that suggests it recognizes all-out opposition is a losing proposition.

“It seems logical that two people of the same sex who care for each other and want to share their lives together can have some sort of civil acknowledgement, but it can’t be the same as what governs marriage,” Uruguay’s top bishop, Jaime Fuentes, said last week as the country’s congress debated the issue.

While the Catholic church remains an important institutional home for opposition to LGBT unions, when we look globally (and speaking in the most simplistic terms), Protestant and Muslim populations seem to be more pivotal demographics for the intensity of opposition to marriage.

A glance at this map from the Economist makes that pretty clear. Laws criminalizing homosexuality are found throughout Africa and the Middle East, but not so much where Catholics are the clearest majority.

In Uganda, for example, 42 percent of the population is Catholic, but another 42 percent is Protestant (mostly Anglican) and another 12 percent is Muslim.

And in Latin America, opposition to LGBT rights is generally strongest where the evangelical movement is strongest. Take the situation in Peru, where a backlash among evangelicals to Lima’s pro-LGBT mayor is driving a recall election.

The gap between what the church says and how this plays out politically is growing—fast. I wonder when that will stop coming as a surprise.