Buenos Aires, Argentina — Argentina on Thursday became the first nation in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, turning aside protest from the Roman Catholic Church to give gay couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
The Senate approved the measure in a hard-fought 33-27 vote, with three abstentions. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has indicated that she will sign it into law quickly.
The 4:05 a.m. vote came after an exhaustive debate that dragged on for more than 14 hours. Hundreds of supporters of the law, waiting outside Congress in freezing temperatures, erupted in cheers and tears of joy when news of the vote reached them.
“This was already a victory because there was no one in Argentina who wasn’t following this debate,” said Emelina Alonso, a human rights lawyer in the crowd to support the law. “Human rights and international law oblige us to protect (same-sex) marriage — so it is in Argentina and soon, surely, in other countries in the region.”
The law makes Argentina one of the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to gay rights, despite fierce opposition from the still-powerful church as well as Christian evangelical groups.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, led the opposition, saying that allowing gays and lesbians to marry posed a threat to what he called the “natural” family formed by the union of a man and woman.
Opponents staged a huge rally earlier in the week, with about 60,000 people marching to Congress.
The law allows a couple of the same sex to marry, adopt children and inherit property, among other rights and protections.
In Latin America, only Mexico City has legalized gay marriage, along with Portugal, Spain and a handful of other European nations, plus Canada. Same-sex civil unions are legal in Uruguay and some states in Brazil and Mexico.
In the U.S., gays can marry in five states and in Washington, D.C.