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Gay couple unites in Argentina, a first for Latin America

July 21, 2003

Cesar Cigliutti and Marcelo Suntheim (AFP) BUENOS AIRES - Two Argentine men became the first gay couple to legally join in a civil union in Latin America when they exchanged rings and kisses in Buenos Aires on Friday.

In a big step forward for homosexual rights, gay couples who have lived together for at least two years will now have health insurance and family leave rights just like heterosexual couples, but will not be allowed to adopt or inherit.

Carlos Cigliutti, 45, and Marcelo Suntheim, 34, proudly displayed License Number One outside the registry office after the ceremony, just five days after gay civil union became law in the Argentine capital.

"For the first time, I can feel that I am living in a society that is a little more just," Cigliutti said.

Cigliutti, a professor, and Suntheim, a student, are both leaders of the Homosexual Community of Argentina (CHA), which fought for passage of the law by the Buenos Aires city council in December.

It is the first time a Latin American city, where the Catholic church is hugely influential and machismo is commonplace, grants gay couples much the same rights as straight ones.

Gay men and lesbian couples will also get hospital visitation and bank credit rights.

The two arrived at the registry building on Montevideo Street in a van outfitted with a microphone and flying the rainbow flag, the colors of the gay rights movement.

The Argentine song "I am who I am, my life is free" blasted as Cigliutti and Suntheim, clad in gray suits and ties, stepped smiling into a crowd of onlookers and media.

Inside the hall packed with friends and family, Justice of the Peace Liliana Gurevich asked three witnesses about the length of the couple's relationship.

Then came an exchange of rings, vows, and kisses.

"I, Carlos Cigliutti, love Marcelo Suntheim and am happy with him," Cigliutti said as everyone applauded and cameras popped.

A raucous street party erupted as the two left the building with confetti and firecrackers, and friends pouring cider for toasts.

Argentine Catholic and other Christian groups meanwhile condemned the union and the law that enabled it to happen.

"There is no reason to protect homosexual unions," said the Network of Catholic non-governmental organizations. The new law "opens the way to authorizing adoptions by people of the same sex," it said.

"The New Testament qualifies homosexuality as one of the most horrible perversions," said the Christian Allied Federation of Evangelical Churches. "Christians must loathe sin but love the sinner."

More liberal attitudes prevail in much of Buenos Aires, however.

The fine restaurants, fashion, and nightlife of the city, not to mention the favorable exchange rate, have fueled gay tourism here.

Among the amenitities are gay-only bed-and-breakfasts and hostels and even tango classes.

More and more hotels are advertising as "gay-friendly," meaning employees will not look askance at a same-sex couple sharing a room and can offer information about gay attractions.

There are also scores of gay residents and support groups -- and others who are not bothered by it all.

"I think it's good. Everyone has the right to do what they want," offered Marina, 40, a waitress at a restaurant nearby.

"They're free to do as they wish, and their decision has to be respected." - Sapa-AFP

Same-sex union of two men in Argentina a Latin American first

Cesar Cigliutti and Marcelo Suntheim (AFP) Two Argentine men were joined Friday in a same-sex civil union in Buenos Aires, a ceremony that advanced the rights of gay and homosexual couples in the city to pension and health benefits that married couples have long been entitled to.

Hailed by activist groups but harshly criticized by others, the ceremony gave momentum to Latin America's own debate over same-sex civil unions, echoing controversies thousands of miles (kilometers) away in North America and in Europe.

"It's hard for me to find words, but I am overcome with emotion," Cesar Cigliutti, 45, said after he and 35-year-old Marcelo Suntheim signed a ledger book and exchanged a kiss before the cameras.

He said the ceremony signified a step forward for same sex couples and added society is now "a little more just." Both men wore ties and dark suits at the ceremony, which took only a matter of minutes. It was believed to be the first such union recognized by a South American city.

Cigliutti, president of the Argentina Homosexual Community organization, had helped to successfully lobby for the initiative's passage last December.

The measure gives same-sex couples in Buenos Aires many of the same rights as heterosexual couples, except the right to adopt children. Under the law, same-sex couples are to receive health insurance and pension rights like those given to married spouses.

While the law recognizes the civil union of same-sex couples, it does not term the union a marriage.

The new law is the first of its kind in this predominantly Roman Catholic and conservative country.

One Roman Catholic expert on bioethics, Father Alberto Bochatey, insisted it was passed without sufficient public debate.

"Even in New York, they don't have this kind of law and they have one of the larger gay and lesbian movements," said Bochatey.

"Obviously there was a debate in the (city) legislature but there wasn't any real public debate. ...

"They were complaining about their social security compensation and other problems, but there are many other ways to address those issues."

Promoters of same-sex unions argue otherwise.

"For us, the law is the state's recognition of our right to be a couple and will allow us to access social benefits that we were excluded from," Marcelo Sunthein told reporters at the time of the law's passage.

Homosexual and lesbian groups described the legislation as the most far-reaching in Latin America despite their disappointment that it does not give same-sex couples rights to adopt children.

In the United States, homosexual marriage lacks full legal recognition in all 50 states. Vermont recognizes civil unions that give homosexual couples the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage but are separate from legal marriage.

On Thursday, Canada's government proposed that marriage be defined as the "lawful union of two persons," which would legalize same-sex marriage throughout country. The proposed law showed Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's intention to make Canada the fourth nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, after Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Related stories
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Croatia gay couples get equal rights as unmarried heterosexuals
Argentina set for first gay marriage in Latin America
US Constitutional ban on gay marriage not necessary - yet: Bush
UK unveils "gay marriages" plan
US Senator backs law to block gay marriage



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