Gay Marriage: How Brazil, Latin America Have Transformed the Global Landscape

Last month, the world’s news media reported how New York’s Gay Pride Parade was given an extra buzz, with the passage (and prompt signing into law) of the state’s marriage equality bill. However, the close attention to NY rather obscured news from two countries of the South, in Brazil and in the Philippines. I will tackle the Phillipinnes in a later post. Here, I want to look at how an under-reported court judgement from Sao Paulo has dramatically transformed the global numbers on gay marriage.

Brazilian Court Approval for Same-Sex Marriage.

Each year, Sao Paolo hosts the world’s largest annual Pride Parade, attracting about three million participants. If a recent court judgement is confirmed, Brazilians will have even more reason to celebrate than New Yorkers: it will add 10 times as many people to the numbers living under marriage equality (197 million, vs 19.5 million). More importantly, this will be full equality under national law, not just that of the state.

Marriage equality in Brazil has evolved with remarkable speed, but there is an important qualifier, which needs some explanation. Until quite recently, there was no formal legal recognition of same-sex unions, but a degree of de facto recognition, under which cohabiting couples could be treated as if they were married. The trouble with these arrangements, is the difficulty that couples face in establishing that their relationships exist in the first place. This is difficult without formal registration.

In a major breakthrough on May 5th this year, a strongly worded unanimous judgement by the Federal Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be granted the same legal rights as married opposite-sex couples. This did not spell out full marriage equality, but it did lay down in precise terms the procedure that couples should follow to have their relationships recognized and registered. This has been widely regarded as creating a system of civil unions.

Then on June 27th, the anniversary of Stonewall, a Sao Paulo state judge in the city of Jacareí  ruled that Sergio Kauffman Sousa and Luiz Andre Moresi could convert their civil union into a full marriage. The next day, another judge did the same for a lesbian couple in Brazilia, and on July 7th, this was repeated in the city of  São Bernardo do Campo (also in Sao Paulo state). It is not yet clear whether this view will be shared by other  state judges elsewhere, or if the decision will be appealed to a higher court. So far, (July 28th, a month after the first decision), there is no evidence that the rulings have been appealed. My opinion is that the earlier Supreme Court ruling came down so strongly on the principle of equality as required by the constitution, that these local rulings in favour of full marriage rights will in fact stand, and will be repeated elsewhere.

Most media attention on gay marriage has focussed on the USA and on Europe, which made all the early running. In sheer numbers though, in the last two years it is in South America where the expansion of marriage equality has been the most dramatic. In Europe, the seven countries so far have a combined total population of 98 million (with nearly half, 45 million, in Spain). Africa has 50 million, in South Africa. In South America, there are now 247 million, in Argentina, Mexico City, and Brazil (more, if you add in the rest of Mexico, which will recognise marriages contracted in the capital).

New York’s bill immediately doubled the number of Americans able to access same-sex marriage in their home state. Marriage equality in Brazil almost exactly doubles the population living in jurisdictions where same-sex couples can have their marriages protected by national law – from 198 to 395 million.

Now note something else: in the global movement to equality, it is the Catholic countries that are leading: Brazil (197 mil); Mexico (107 mil); Spain (45 mil); Argentina (41 mil); Portugal (11 mil); Belgium (11 mil); and substantial Catholic populations in the Netherlands, Canada, New York and Massachusetts.

(NOTE: the original article was written on July 5th, and updated July 28th to take note of more recent information on two more civil unions converted to marriage).

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1 comment for “Gay Marriage: How Brazil, Latin America Have Transformed the Global Landscape

  1. Guest
    March 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Up next on your 10’oclock news:  Brazil approves of pedophilia.  New York approve of bestiality & the APA removes it as a mental disorder.  California approves of polygamy & Belgium approves  objectphillia, & just today a marriage between a man & his toaster was made live on ABC News.

    what a great world of “love” we live in /sarcasm

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