Gay Rights: Uruguay Passes Landmark Same Sex Marriage Bill, Bringing Hope to Latin America

On Wednesday, Uruguay’s lower house of congress made continental history as the second country in Latin America to approve a law making all marriages equal. (Its next-door neighbor, Argentina, was the first, after its senate passed the bill in 2010). Also on Wednesday, the Mexican State of Oaxaca is closing in on the bronze, as the nation’s supreme court deemed the exclusion of marriage law for gay and lesbian couples to be unconstitutional.

Though these legal changes are history in the making for a region Foreign Policy once described as "land of the closet, home of the macho," approval of this bill should not detract from how many steps some of Latin America's other, more conservative countries still need to make toward affirmative policy on marriage equality.

Back in Uruguay, 81 of 87 lawmaking Chamber of Deputies legislators approved leftist ruling party Frente Amplio’s bill, which now awaits the Senate's anticipated green-light. Julio Bango, Frente legislator and contributor to the bill said, "This is not a homosexual or gay marriage law. It is a measure to equalize the institution of marriage independent of the sex of the couple."

But even with legislation in place, isn’t it a fair assumption that there’s no bill in the world to overthrow socially and culturally ingrained biases overnight?

Consider Chile — long considered one of Latin America’s most homophobic countries — which legally upholds a higher age of consent for homosexuals than it does for heterosexuals. In late June 2012, the nation made headlines for its second March for Equality, when 80,000 people gathered 'not just for gays, but for Chilean society as a whole.' This hopeful confluence of support in the nation's capital followed in the wake of the brutal killing of a 24 year-old gay man in a Santiago park.

Emily Williams Cornejo, longtime Chile resident and expat, observes, "Chilean society seems to be placing more emphasis on acceptance of homosexuality — sadly in large part a reaction to the hate-motivated torture and murder of a gay man earlier this year. However this remains a country where even in Santiago, a cosmopolitan city of 7 million, men often claim to be nothing more than cousins rooming together rather than risk the consequences of being openly gay, in contrast to the general level of acceptance in many major US cities."

Salud to Uruguay and Mexico for their recent decisions — they are of critical impact. Though Latin America’s journey to marriage equality is far from over, enabling the overturn of decades of legalized stigmatization and inequality brings this important issue where it belongs: out of the closet and to the global table for discussion.