Argentina legalizes same-sex marriage

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Argentina today became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with the BBC's Candace Piete in Buenos Aires.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Early this morning Argentine lawmakers voted to make their country the first in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. It was an announcement that many in Argentina welcomed. Other countries in the region have approved same-sex civil unions. But the new law in Argentina gives couples more rights, including adopting children and inheriting wealth. The debate over the law pitted the country's president against an increasingly vocal Catholic Church. The BBC's Candace Piete is in Buenos Aires. Candace, how did a centrist-left president, Cristina Fernandez, manage to rally enough support to get this law passed in a country that's 90% Catholic?

CANDACE PIETE: Essentially, Marco, people say they're Catholic, but that doesn't mean to say they're not liberals. In a sense, I think that this debate really split the country between the more conservative sectors and liberals. And that included liberal Catholics, for example. Now I think that the president was helped in her support of the bill partly because there are lots of Argentineans who think like her that really, this is the time to become a modern country, and to turn away from these more conservative traditionalist values which have always had quite a dominant role in Argentinean society in the last decade.

WERMAN: Did it boil down to kind of a debate between urban versus rural, Buenos Aires versus the countryside?

PIETE: I think this debate was a very complex one. I think for the conservatives the issue was specifically adoption and concerns about the education in life that children would receive being brought up by gay parents. And there were concerns also about the decomposition of traditional marriage and traditional society and about this perhaps going against what they describe is a natural law. I mean very much the description of marriage is that it should be between a man and a woman for procreation purposes.

WERMAN: And have these issues, Candace, been debated among Argentine citizens or has this been kind of an insider political battle between lawmakers and the Catholic Church?

PIETE: Well, in the lead up to the debate there were a series of fora and meetings across the country in all the provinces to discuss this, to sound out these very issues, so it has been a debate that has taken place at grass roots.

WERMAN: How have opponents to the bill reacted?

PIETE: The eve of the debate there was a huge demonstration outside the Congress. Tens of thousands of people, members of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and predominantly the Catholic Church, there were many young students from Buenos Aires' many Catholic schools there to protest against the bill. I think that it demonstrated a very large body of people who are not in agreement with this and who are concerned that the issue of marriage and traditional life here, and family life, will be in some way damaged by this. And certainly we've heard that message from the Cardinal of Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio.

WERMAN: Now, when Massachusetts passed gay marriage a few years ago, there were couples lined up outside of city halls around this state. Is a similar thing happening today in Argentina?

PIETE: Well, it's a little early to call that. I think there was a lot of celebrating last night after the vote was announced, outside the Congress. Gays, lesbians, transsexuals were all out there standing in the freezing cold, in the Southern Hemisphere winter for more than 16 hours and then celebrating. So I think they're probably all in bed still as we speak.

WERMAN: The BBC's Candace Piete in Buenos Aires. Thank you very much, Candace.

PIETE: Nice to talk to you, Marco.