BUENOS AIRES, Argentina Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize gay marriage Thursday, granting same-sex couples all the legal rights, responsibilities and protections that marriage brings to heterosexuals.
The laws passage a priority for President Cristina Fernandezs government has inspired activists to push for similar laws in other countries, and a wave of gay weddings are expected in Buenos Aires. Some gay business leaders are predicting an economic ripple effect from an increase in tourism among gays and lesbians who will see Argentina as an even more attractive destination.
But it also carries political risks for Fernandez and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner. The vote divided their governing coalition, and while gay rights have strong support in the capital, anti-gay feelings still run strong in much of Argentine society, where the vast majority of people are Roman Catholic.
From today onward, Argentina is a more just and democratic country, said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender federation. The law not only recognizes the rights of our families, but also the possibility of having access to health care, to leave a pension, to leave our assets to the people with whom we have shared many years of life, including our children, she said.
After a marathon debate that touched on religion, ethics, the legacy of Argentinas dictatorship and the challenges of raising children, the 33-27 Senate vote was tallied shortly before dawn, with three abstentions. Because the lower house already approved it, the law takes effect within days.
Gays and lesbians who have already found Buenos Aires to be a welcoming place to live will likely rush to the altar, but same-sex couples from other countries will need to live in Argentina before becoming eligible, and the necessary residency documents can take months to obtain.
The approval came despite a concerted campaign by the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups, which drew 60,000 people to march on Congress and urged parents in churches and schools to work against passage. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio led the campaign, saying children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother.
Opponents of gay marriage proposed a civil-union law instead that would have barred gays from adopting or undergoing in-vitro fertilization to have children, and enabled any civil servant to conscientiously object to register gay couples. In the end, parliamentary maneuvers kept the Senate from voting on civil unions as the government bet all or nothing on the more politically difficult option of marriage.
Im proud that we never tried for civil unions, always for complete equality, said Esteban Paulon, the LGBT federations general secretary. He credits an enormous conviction that equality means the same rights with the same names.
The final vote split both the governing coalition and the opposition, with lawmakers on both sides saying they went with their convictions.
Sen. Juan Perez Alsina, usually a loyal supporter of the president, called marriage between a man and a woman essential for the preservation of the species.
But others compared the discrimination closeted gays face to the oppression millions suffered under Argentinas dictatorship years ago, and urged their fellow senators to show the world how much Argentina has matured. Society has grown up. We arent the same as we were before, Sen. Daniel Filmus said.