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Topics In the News
Uruguay's House of Representatives Passes Marriage Equality Bill
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/12/12
Last updated on: 12/12/12
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The flag of Uruguay.

On December 11, 2012, Uruguay's House of Representatives easily passed a marriage equality bill. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass in March 2013, and then to President José Mujica who has pledged to sign it. Uruguay is, thus, poised to become the twelfth country to legalize same-sex marriage nationally.

As Michael K. Lavers reports in the Washington Blade, the House approved the legislation by a lopsided vote of 81 to 6.

"We are ending decades of institutionalized discrimination from the state," Deputy Nicolás Núñez said as he spoke in support of the proposal.

"Today, we are a step further toward becoming a more democratic and just society," Álvaro Queiruga of the glbtq advocacy group Colectivo Ovejas Negras said. "The LGBT population will no longer be denied an essential right such as this one. We are very happy today, and this will empower us to continue our fight for a better Uruguay without second class citizens due to their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Most of the six-hour discussion of the bill was devoted to two other provisions, especially the provision that lets all couples, gay or straight, decide whose surname goes first when they name their children. This breaks with a tradition that has held for centuries across Latin America. In nearly every country, laws require couples to give their children two last names, with the father's coming first.

In addition, the legislation also replaces Uruguay's 1912 divorce law, which gave only women, and not their husbands, the right to renounce marriage vows without cause. In the early twentieth Century, Uruguay's lawmakers saw this as an equalizer, since men at the time held all the economic and social power in a marriage.

As Queiruga noted, Uruguay has been in the vanguard of progressive social legislation in Latin America. A nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression took effect in 2004; and in 2008 the country became the first Latin American country to adopt a national civil union law, the Ley de Unión Concubinaria.

The law permits both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil union after living together for at least five years. Couples in civil unions are entitled to most of the benefits that married couples are afforded, including social security entitlements, inheritance rights, and joint ownership of goods and property. In addition, same-sex couple are permitted joint adoption rights.

The marriage equality legislation "is the last major law that was needed to be approved for the LGBT population," Queiruga told the Blade. But he noted that some problems remain. "The trans population is most vulnerable. . . . This year five trans people were murdered because of their identity, so we are going to continue fighting for our rights."

Supporters of the marriage equality bill celebrated its passage in a square in front of the Uruguayan Congress in Montevideo, the country's capital.

If the bill is passed by the Senate in March, Uruguay will become the second South American country after neighboring Argentina to authorize same-sex marriage nationally.

Mexican gay and lesbian couples have been able to marry in Mexico City since 2010, while a recent ruling by the country's high court promises to establish marriage equality nationally there as well.

Same-sex couples in Colombia will automatically receive full marriage rights in June if the country's lawmakers do not act upon a court ruling that orders them to legislate the matter. A Colombian Senate committee last week approved a measure that would legalize nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Same-sex marriages have also been recognized in certain parts of Brazil.

The video below, from August 2011, reports on Uruguay's governing party's endorsement of marriage equality legislation.

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