Bishops Claims Fail to Derail Marriage Equality in Uruguay

On Tuesday night, the House of Deputies in Uruguay voted overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality. The marriage equality bill is also expected to pass the Senate easily; President Jose Mujica has pledged to sign it into law. Uruguay will soon join Argentina, which legalized marriage between same-sex couples in 2010.

As in Argentina, marriage equality advanced in Uruguay over the objections of the Catholic hierarchy. Bishop Jaime Fuentes said last month, in language that will be familiar to marriage equality advocates in the U.S., that “children have a right to be raised by a father and mother, by birth or adoption”:

“It seems logical that two people of the same sex who care for each other and want to share their lives together can have some sort of civil acknowledgement, but it can’t be the same as what governs marriage,” Fuentes said. “Giving this kind of union the same obligations and rights as marriage would represent serious discrimination against a married man and woman.”

But the Catholic hierarchy has less influence in Uruguay than in neighboring states. CNN in October called Uruguay “the current standard-bearer on progressive policies on the continent” after the legislature voted to legalize first-trimester abortions.

Marriage equality also won a victory in Mexico this month, though it may take a while before the impact of the ruling is felt throughout the country. Last week, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled in favor of three same-sex couples who challenged the constitutionality of the marriage ban in the state of Oaxaca; marriage equality is already the law in Mexico City.

The ruling on Oaxaca’s law does not automatically make marriage legally available to all same-sex couples; in the wake of the ruling, reporters struggled to clarify rules that seemed to indicate five such rulings would be required for couples in each state. J. Lester Feder, a former Politico reporter who is covering marriage developments around the world, wrote that the state of the law in Mexico is confused:

It turns out it’s not entirely clear right now how this kind of ruling changes Mexican law. I checked in with Geraldina de la Vega, one of the lawyers on the case and a national expert in sexuality law. She explained much of the confusion comes from the fact that the court is operating under constitutional reforms passed in 2011 affecting how the court overturns laws. We don’t know how they’ll apply to this ruling because they haven’t been tested yet. And, to make matters even more confusing, the national congress has failed to pass legislation implementing the constitutional reforms, which could clear a lot of this up.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.