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First same-sex marriage in Latin America
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First same-sex marriage in Latin America

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On December 28, Latin America's first same-sex marriage was celebrated - not in Mexico City, which last week approved marriage equality for same-sex couples, but in the remote Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego.

Jose Maria di Bello and Alex Freyre were married in a civil ceremony witnessed by provincial and federal Argentine officials and crowds of supporters and well-wishers.

"As a couple, we dreamed of marrying for a long time," Freyre told Telam news agency.

"My knees didn't stop shaking," Di Bello said. "We are the first Gay couple in Latin America to marry."

"We're extremely excited and happy about what this means for all Gays and Lesbians in Argentina," he continued.

Di Bello, 41, an executive at the Argentine Red Cross, met Freyre, 39, executive director of the Buenos Aires AIDS Foundation, at an HIV awareness conference. Both are HIV-positive.

Residents of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, the couple had hoped to marry there on World AIDS Day, December 1.

While same-sex marriage has not previously been legal in Argentina, the couple fought for and won an order from a Buenos Aires court allowing them to marry.

On November 10 Buenos Aires judge Gabriela Seijas ordered city officials to grant the couple a marriage license if they applied for one.

"The law should treat each person with equal respect in relation to each person's singularities without the need to understand or regulate them," she said in her ruling.

Since the Argentine constitution does not specify the sex of couples who may marry, Seijas ruled that provincial and local officials had authority to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri said that his government would not appeal the decision, but on November 30 a second judge filed an injunction halting the marriage until the issue could be considered further.

The Roman Catholic Church in Argentina had criticized Judge Seijas' decision to let the couple marry and urged authorities to reconsider.

Although the Argentine federal government could not directly intervene, Argentina's National Institute Against Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) helped find a friendly jurisdiction where the couple could have their wedding.

INADI President Claudio Morgado was even a witness at the ceremony, which he called "historic."

"The first same-sex marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean finally took place," he said. "This has been possible thanks to a long fight for our rights."

"This is the purpose of INADI, to safeguard the rights of citizens who do not fully enjoy these rights," Morgado told Telam news agency.

Tierra del Fuego Governor Fabiana Rios said in a statement that Gay marriage "is an important advance in human rights and social inclusion and we are very happy that this has happened in our state."

Di Bello said city authorities in Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego's capital - initially declined to authorize the marriage until the couple received backing from Gov. Rios.

"We filed an administrative appeal to the government of Tierra del Fuego, which finally authorized the wedding," he explained. "We weren't going to give up until we got married," Freyre added.

Fabiana Rios is currently the only woman provincial governor in Argentina, and the first woman governor of Tierra del Fuego, a sparsely populated province at the extreme southern tip of South America.

She is a member of the center-left ARI party, the Afirmaci├│n para una Rep├║blica de Iguales (Support for a Republic of Equals). ARI promotes a liberal social agenda, including non-discrimination against sexual minorities.

Argentina became the first Latin American country to allow same-sex civil unions in 2002. Uruguay also allows same-sex civil unions, as do some states of Mexico and Brazil.

Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador have same-sex civil union bills pending at the national level.

A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage was introduced in Argentina's Congress in October but it has stalled without a vote. To date, Mexico City is the only jurisdiction in Latin America that permits same-sex marriage.

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