There is one area where the Latin American country of Uruguay can claim to have passed the United States: same-sex rights. On Thursday the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house in the Uruguayan General Assembly, voted to approve a bill that legalized same-sex marriage. This makes it the second country in Latin America to approve of same-sex marriage. The first is Argentina, birthplace of newly elected Pope Francis I, which legalized same-sex marriage back in 2010.
The law passed the lower chamber by a wide margin, receiving 71 of 92 possible votes. It was previously approved by the upper house, the Chamber of Senators, by a 23-8 vote one week ago. The signature of the bill into law by President José Mujica is widely expected by observers; the president supported the legislation. This is just the latest in legislation passed by his governing coalition led by Mujica's leftist party, the Broad Front (El Frente Amplio), who have governed since 2004.
Uruguay is a Roman Catholic country as is the norm in Latin America, with 45.1% of the population identifying as such. However, an unusual fact about Uruguay is that it has a relatively high number of religiously unaffiliated people, with 27.8% not claiming any religious affiliation according to the State Department.
As with the efforts in other countries, religious groups spoke and campaigned against the proposal. Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church protested the measure, with the Bishop of Salto, Pablo Galimberti writing, "Why make relative or devalue an institution that is already so injured, like the family, introducing deep modifications that are going to confuse more than clarify?"
The opposing party also opposed the measure. Gerardo Amarilla, a senator from the opposition National Party (Partido Nacional), said of the bill, "We are opposed to this bill because we understand it distorts and changes the nature of the institution of marriage." Other remarks he made include that the bill "debases the institution of marriage" and impacts the family, especially in its "role in procreation."
Supporters of the law reacted with celebration and inspiring quotes. Damien Diaz of Uruguay said of the law "We're definitely going to feel now that we live in a place where we're recognized for who we are, where we get more respect and more acceptance." Diaz is a relationship with a fellow man. "I have all the rights and obligations of everyone else. Roberto Acosta, a 62-year-old gay man said, “I pay my taxes and fulfill my responsibilities, why would I be discriminated against?"
The bill will make Uruguay the third country in the hemisphere to legalize same-sex marriage. Along with Argentina passing its support of same-sex marriage in 2010 under President Kirchner, Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005 under the government of Prime Minister Paul Martin. The United States recently heard several Supreme Court cases that may legalize same-sex marriage in some sections of the country. But it remains to be seen if it will follow the example of Uruguay and other countries.