To my readers back home in the US: Imagine the US Congress legalized gay marriage nationwide and passed a law giving transexuals a right to sexual reassignment surgery. Then imagine abortion was almost completely illegal, and sex ed was kept out of many schools.
It’s hard enough to imagine this Congress championing LGBT rights. But it’s even weirder to imagine a climate that was so pro-LGBT yet simultaneously hostile to reproductive freedoms.
Yet that’s exactly the situation in Argentina today. After legalizing same-sex marriage in 2010, the national legislature passed a gender identity law that, as I understand it, funds sex change operations for those who want them. Yet abortion is still almost entirely illegal except in cases like rape–and now, according to a recent court ruling, doctors must “verify” that a woman was raped in order be able to get an abortion. And sex education in the schools also remains highly controversial.
As someone who’s covered American cultural politics for the past five years, this is a real mind-bender–it’s like being somewhere where the laws of Newtonian physics don’t apply. And it’s taken a great deal of explaining to the Argentines I’ve spoken with why their situation looks so weird to an American observer.
But the other night at a cultural event in Buenos Aires, I heard a city lawmaker observe the country’s paradoxical situation. This was Diputada Maria José Lubertino, the former head of the country’s national anti-discrimination institute, INADI.
“We are very proud … if it’s true that the government as made [Argentina] the friendliest place for lesbians, gays, transvestites, and transexuals, … it certainly is a global validation, but we should not feel satisfied or finished,” Lubertino said.
She pointed out that even in Buenos Aires there were efforts keeping sex ed out of the city’s schools.
We find in a city that is supposedly advanced, progressive, where, in parallel, … [there are women who are] victims of violence, victims of unwanted pregnancies, teenage pregnancy, abortions, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, that probably … [with] sex education … could have been avoided.
The explanation I get from the people I’ve interviewed is that the opposition to abortion and sex education reflects the power of the Catholic Church. But no one’s been able to clarify for me why the church holds sway on these issues but not on gay marriage, which the country’s cardinal called “the work of the devil” before the law passed.