This month, a number of countries in the Americas moved closer to legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. AS/COA Online provides an overview of the latest policy movements in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, and Uruguay.
- In Brazil, the São Paulo state judiciary issued a new rule on December 18 which requires notaries to marry same-sex couples. The change follows the May 2011 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex unions. Gay couples can also marry across Brazil, but in order to do so they have to register a civil union and then go to the courts to convert the union into a marriage. The December rule now means same-sex couples in Brazil’s most populous state can skip a court order and get a marriage license at a public notary.
- In Colombia, a bill to legalize gay marriage passed the first of four congressional debates on December 4. Next, the Senate will consider the bill, though no date has been set. Senator Armando Benedetti introduced the bill in August 2011, a month after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled the Colombian legislature would have to pass a law legalizing gay marriage. The decision says that Congress has until June 2013 to pass such a bill; otherwise gay marriage will become law.
- On December 5, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional article 143 of Oaxaca state’s civil code, opening the door for same-sex marriage in that state. The article defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the Court unanimously agreed the law “violates the principle of equality.” The ruling means other gay couples throughout the country could appeal within the judicial system to win marriage rights. In Oaxaca, courts must rule on two more cases before a precedent allowing gay marriage is set in that state. But the change could come sooner, as the Oaxaca state legislature is considering legislation that would change the civil code to allow gay marriage. The Supreme Court decision could even have repercussions throughout Latin America, since the couples in the case used the American Convention on Human Rights—a multilateral treaty—as a legal argument. Same-sex couples can legally wed in Mexico City and the state of Quintana Roo, and these marriages are legally recognized throughout the country. Same-sex unions can take place in Coahuila state.
- The United States Supreme Court announced on December 7 that justices would rule on two key cases on gay marriage. The Court will decide on Proposition 8, a California law banning same-sex marriage, as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This 1996 law defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and limits certain government and tax benefits to heterosexual couples. The Court will begin hearing arguments in March 2013 with decisions expected in June. Not only will the judgment have implications for other state-based gay marriage laws, but the DOMA verdict could also impact immigration. Currently, DOMA prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining immigration benefits, such as the ability to apply for a green card or an employment-based visa. If DOMA is overturned, binational gay couples may win the right to marriage immigration benefits.
- In Uruguay, a bill is working its way through Congress that would give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, including the right to marry. On December 11, the lower house approved the Marriage Equality Law with 81 out of 87 votes in favor. The Senate will vote on the bill in early 2013, where it is expected to pass. Same-sex civil unions and adoption by gay couples are already legal in Uruguay.
In other LGBT news in the Americas:
- Saba, a small Caribbean island that forms part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, legalized same-sex marriage this month. The Netherlands passed a marriage equality law in 2001, and each local government in the Kingdom has to formally implement the law. In doing so, Saba became the first Caribbean island to legalize gay marriage.
- This week, Costa Rica’s Congress began debating a same-sex union’s bill submitted by President Laura Chinchilla’s administration. Chinchilla declared her support for the legislation with a statement saying: “The government reiterates the necessity to fill the legal void in relation to proprietary rights for same-sex couples.”
- Laurier LaPierre, Canada’s first openly gay senator and an LGBT rights advocate, died at age 83 on December 17. LaPierre was a key proponent of Bill C-250, which criminalized gay hate crimes after its passage in 2004.