Can law change norms?

Analía Mas

If the US were to legalize gay marriage, how long would it take opposition to dissipate? Would the law’s passage radically reduce anti-gay sentiment in places where it’s now strong, or would it just intensify in defeat?

Looking at their own experience, some of the activists who fought for the marriage law are stunned at how fast it became accepted. It had a transformative effect even in the country’s most conservative northern provinces.

I recently spoke with two lawyers who worked on the marriage and gender identity laws, Analía Mas and Mariana Casas. The told me the change in Argentine society came almost instantaneously.

Mas described how she went to Tecumán–a city in the far northern corner of the country–to attend the city’s first gay wedding after the law passed. She had been there just two months before to debate some lawyers opposed to the law. “The opposition in the province [to the law] was just terrible,” Mas said.

But she ran into the lawyers she had debated after the the wedding–which was for two laborers who had a son–and they were “very humble.”

“The same ones who had been opposed [to the marriage law] greeted me in the street saying, ‘Well, we don’t think the same [as the men who got married], but we congratulate them,’ Mas remembers. “The social acceptance had been enormous.”

In another anecdote, Mas said that a 20 year old lesbian whose father had not spoken to her for two years called her on the very night the law passed.

Mariana Casas summed up:

What happened was not only that gays and lesbians could marry, but also that the state said they exist. They exist and that is ok. Do you understand what happened?… That is legitimation. We hope the same will happen [for trans people] with the gender identity law, though it is a little more difficult.

And, as she sees it, Argentina’s now more accepting than many cities in Europe.

We’ve made up kilometers of in less time than Madrid or Barcelona … I come to Madrid, and I’m suprised that Madrid doesn’t have the assimilation that’s possible for gays and lesbians and trans people (that we have here)…. I’m 53 years old, and I don’t remember ever having seen two men or two women holding hands in the street like I see now.

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