Making it the 10th country in the world, Argentina legislators backed by President Cristina Fernandez, voted 33-27 in the Senate with 3 abstentions in a landmark decision July 15 to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
After 15 hours of debate at the Buenos Aires Congress building and thousands of supporters both for and against outside, Argentina has become the first Latin American nation granting gays and lesbians all the legal rights, responsibilities and protections that marriage gives heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples will share equal rights when it comes to adoptions, social security and family issues.
"It's a positive step which defends the rights of minorities in Argentina," said President Fernandez, currently on a state visit to China to the media.
Leading up to the vote a fierce and concerted campaign by the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups worked to stop and oppose the measure. The Catholic Church fought against the vote and unsuccessfully called for a national referendum on the issue, which drew support from opposing political parties. Clerics who supported the right to same-sex marriage were sanctioned by the church.
Argentina is a nation of 40 million and 90 percent describe themselves as Roman Catholic.
Buenos Aires archbishop and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio called the bill "a plan to destroy God's plan. In a recent statement he said, "This is no mere legislative bill, it is move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God."
Defending the bill President Fernandez said she is disappointed in the Catholic Church's crusade to block the measure.
"It's very worrisome to hear words like 'God's war' or 'the devil's project,' things that recall the times of the Inquisition," she said.
Speaking to the Associated Press Sen. Norma Morandini, member of Fernandez' party compared the discrimination gays face to the oppression imposed the nations past dictators.
"What defines us is our humanity, and what runs against humanity is intolerance," she said.
Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transsexuals told AP, "Nearly every political and social figure has spoken out in favor of marriage equality for everyone. And we hope that the Senate reflects this and that Argentina, from today forward, is a more just country for all families."
Argentina follows the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal and Iceland.
Same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay, Colombia and Buenos Aires, as well as the northern Mexico state of Coahuila, and the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Buenos Aires was the first Latin American city to legalize civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in 2002.
Mexico City legalized gay marriage in 2009 but not the rest of the country. After hearing the news about Argentina Mexico City's tourism minister is offering a free honeymoon to the first gay couple to marry there under the new law. The couple would have all expenses paid in the Mexican capital and in the beach resort of Cancun. The offer was made as a recognition of tolerance and a way to promote gay tourism in Mexico, officials said.
The new Argentine law broadly declares, "marriage provides for the same requisites and effects independent of whether the contracting parties are of the same of different sex."
Rachid notes Argentina may be the first country in Latin America but that others are surely to fallow suit.
"A lot of countries will come after Argentina approving and recognizing the legal equality of all families," she said.
Photo: Natacha Pisarenko / AP