Uruguay's Senate voted on Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in a move that will "guarantee marriage equality and diminish discrimination," according to Human Rights Watch. The vote was 23 to 8.
The lower house of Congress first passed the bill in December, at which point it moved on to the Senate for a vote. The bill, which calls for a single law to govern matrimony for both homosexual and heterosexual couples, will now return to the lower chamber of Congress with changes made by the Senate. Among modifications is a measure that raises the minimum age for marriage, from 12 for girls and 14 for boys to 16 for everyone.
“Uruguayan senators made the right decision by allowing same-sex couples to marry,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Final approval will enable gays and lesbians in Uruguay to marry the person they love and will strengthen the fundamental rights of everyone in Uruguay to equality and non-discrimination.”
If Congress approves the bill later in April, when it is largely expected to pass, Uruguay will become the 12th country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. The Associated Press reports that President Jose Mujica, who has pushed for more liberal proposals in his mandate, has said he plans to sign the bill into law. This puts the country on track ahead of France, which the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life predicted would make number 12 after a final vote in May.
Uruguay will also become the second nation in Latin America—after Argentina— to introduce marriage equality legislation on a national level. In fact, Dittrich says, the bill passed by Argentina’s Congress in 2010 served as the inspiration for the first draft of the Uruguayan bill, which was written by the Black Sheep Collective, a leading Uruguayan gay rights group.
“I know from personal experience that the Black Sheep Collective has been in contact with CHA, Community of Homosexuals in Argentina,” Dittrich said. “I have met with them, and can say they are definitely working together.”
Following news of the Senate’s vote in favor of the bill, the Community of Homosexuals in Argentina made several social media announcements, tweeting: “In URUGUAY they said NO TO HOMOPHOBIA in a historical vote…”
The bill changes the language of marriage contracts, eliminating the words “husband and wife,” and replacing them with the gender-neutral “contracting parties.” Under the law all couples, gay and straight, will be allowed to decide whose surname will go first when naming a child. The bill also clarifies rules regarding adoption and in-vitro fertilization.
Federico Grana, a member of the Black Sheep Collective, told the Associated Press, “It goes beyond homosexuality. It’s about a law where everyone shares the same rights and obligations.”
Same-sex civil unions have been legal in Uruguay since 2008, and homosexuals have been allowed to serve in the military since 2009. Human Rights Watch says it anticipates that the first same-sex marriages in Uruguay could take place as early as July or August.