Marriage Equality and Catholic Latin America.

 With little fanfare, gay marriage is making steady progress among the world’s greatest concentration of Catholics – but a major landmark in South America passed by with hardly any notice, when the Uruguay senate approved legislation earlier this month.

At Bondings 2.0, Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry drew attention to the implications for the Catholic Church:

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Uruguay Passage of Marriage Equality Calls Church’s Role in Latin America Into Question

A successful Senate vote in Uruguay means marriage equality is only formalities away from becoming legal in that nation, making it the twelfth nation globally and second South American one to do so. Historically Catholic nations, like Argentina and Uruguay, have begun a trend in that region and the Catholic Church’s role these matters plays heavily, especially now that Pope Francis oversees the global church with his Argentine background. reports that Uruguay legislators in the upper house approved the marriage equality measure in a 23-8 vote, sending it to the lower house, which successfully passed a similar law last year, and then onto the president for approval. The Catholic hierarchy in Uruguay has made similar statements to those made by then-Cardinal Bergoglio when marriage equality was at issue in Argentina: warnings about the destructive nature of same-gender marriage and threats to children have been prominent in both cases. Their words seem deafened now, as reports:

“For years, it was rare to see gay rights issues gaining traction in Latin American countries.

“Not anymore, Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, told CNN in 2010.

“‘Latin America currently has some of the most gay-friendly cities in the developing world,’ said Corrales, who ranked cities’ gay-friendliness in a book he co-edited, ‘The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America.’

“In 2009, Uruguay was the first Latin American country to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. It was also one the first Latin American countries to allow same-sex civil unions.

In another South American nation, Colombia, legislators have begun to mull marriage equality,  while Mexico continues adjudicating its tensions of having regionally-legalized rights.

It is well documented at this point that Pope Francis’ record on LGBT rights is mixed, with harsh comments about same-gender marriage coupled alongside vocal support for civil unions.In Uruguay, bishops spoke fervently against passage of the bill. In Colombia, where the measure is expected to fail, there has been greater silence by the hierarchy.

An interview on Public Radio International’s The World program presents one explanation for why traditionally Catholic nations in South America are leading the world in LGBT rights and equality. Lester Feder is a journalist who recalls the powerful narrative of human rights that emerged in Latin America as an explanation for why the quick integration of LGBT rights into legal structures occurred.  Feder also proposes that the Catholic Church is less powerful than is thought:

“”But the Catholic Church, especially in Argentina is a cultural institution with a lot of history, but its a very secular country and it doesn’t have a lot of power in politics…So, we have a kind of monolithic notion of Latin America and the influence of the Catholic Church, but the reality is more complicated.”

As the papacy of Pope Francis seems to indicate a shifting tone from legalism to pastoral concern, perhaps his experiences with the trend of full equality in Latin America will shape the global hierarchy’s response from Rome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 Bondings 2.0.

There’s more that could be added, here. Latin America is not only heavily Catholic – it’s also the largest population bloc of Catholics, anywhere, as has been widely noted with the election of Pope Francis, and equality is already in place or on the way, across much more of the region that at first appears. Uruguay will be the second country in the region to approve marriage equality by legislative means, but there are three others where it’s effectively on the way, courtesy of the courts.

Shine refers to Colombia, where legislators are considering proposals. They are obliged to do this, by order of the constitutional court. The bill does not seem to be making much progress – but that’s irrelevant. The court order stipulates that if no legislation is passed by June, the existing restriction to opposite – sex couples simply falls away, and equal marriage comes into force by default.

In Brazil, a series of court judgements has affirmed that all couples have the same rights to marriage. A series of states have formalized this in state legislation, elsewhere couples can simply apply to have their civil unions registered as marriages.

In Mexico, first Mexico City in 2009, then two more states (Quintana Roo, 2011, and Oaxaca, 2012) approved gay marriages within their own states – but the court has ruled that these marriages must be recognized across the country. Proposals are under consideration in a number of other states. So any Mexican couple can have a full same – sex marriage, with all the legal recognition of any other, simply by arranging their wedding in Mexico City or one of the increasing number of other states that have introduced marriage equality. So in this map, dark blue indicates the states with full marriage equality, mid blue civil unions only, and pale blue (all the rest) where marriages contracted elsewhere are recognized.


In the region holding the word’s greatest concentration of Catholics, equal marriage is spreading rapidly – and where full marriage is not yet available, across most of the region, civil unions offer a second best alternative.

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