How Argentina is bringing the fight for gay marriage to you

Gay Star News speaks to Esteban Paulón, president of the Argentine LGBT Federation (FALGBT), about how the LGBT rights group is pushing for marriage equality, gay parents’ rights and transgender rights beyond its borders

Is same-sex marriage not yet legal in your country?

Consider coming to Argentina, where since May 2012, gay couples from abroad can legally wed in four provinces including the capital city of Buenos Aires.

All you need is a copy of your passport and the address of your hotel.

Be forewarned, because your marriage will likely not be recognized when you go back home.

You won’t be able to introduce your husband to the immigration officers at customs. You can’t declare your wife when you file your taxes later in the year.

Your marriage will likely ruffle some legal feathers with your government, and that’s exactly what Argentina’s LGBT rights groups are counting on.

Gay Star News spoke with Esteban Paulón, president of the Argentine LGBT Federation (FALGBT), to get the inside story on the implications of the country’s LGBT laws for foreign gay couples, gay parents and not-so pro-gay governments.

The FALGBT has a reputation for achieving its goals through direct confrontation and protest to existing laws. Created in the city of Rosario in 2005, the FALGBT is responsible for introducing the judiciary movements that would lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage five years later.

Former FALGBT president Maria Rachid and her partner were one of the first couples to apply for same-sex marriage licenses, directly challenging the 2002 court ruling that same-sex couples could only apply for civil unions. With the encouragement of the FALGBT, many more same-sex couples applied for their own marriage licenses until a sympathetic judge ruled in one couples’ favor.

From that point on, the FALGBT and Argentina’s other LGBT rights groups have been actively involved in the enactment of the country’s same-sex marriage law, as well as this year’s groundbreaking gender identity law that allows transgender individuals to change their sex without prior-needed court approval.

Esteban Paulón discusses the FALGBT’s role in the country’s LGBT policies.

GSN: Argentina is the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage. Did the FALGBT cooperate with other LGBT rights organizations around the world or did you do all the work on your own?

EP: The LGBT rights movement in Argentina has had its ups and downs, like in every country, but particularly after the 2001 economic crisis the movement took a stronger role. Once the country started rebuilding itself after 2001, civil unions became legal in Buenos Aires in 2002 and then debates began about how to extend the law to a national scale.

At this point, we got together and drew on Spain’s experience with marriage equality. We saw the possibility of the marriage equality law passing in Argentina because of similar social structures. We immediately got into contact with LGBT rights groups in Spain, analyzing their strategy and applying them to our situation. Obviously, there are very important differences between Spain and Argentina, but that helped with fortifying a national identity for us.

In Rosario in 2006, we had the opportunity to invite some organizations from the region like Spain’s Fundacion Triangulo, Colombia’s Caribe Afirmativo and Colombia Diversa, Chile’s MOHL and Peru’s Promsex to participate in the introduction of LGBT rights into MERCOSUR, Latin America’s trading bloc. An important part of our work is designing and collaborating with different countries on their strategies for marriage equality.

How do you think the 2001 economic crisis affected LGBT rights in Argentina?

The 2001 crisis was a big turning point. All types of diverse social movements activated and mobilized. After a crisis where everyone suffers repression, everyone will be willing to support any message that’s seen as progressive. In that sense, the crisis contributed to the emergence of a national movement that came with a clear, political message.

In five years between 2005 and 2010, when the marriage equality law was introduced and then passed, we worked on everything that had to do with introducing diversity into the political agenda of different institutions since it wasn’t there yet. We worked hard to introduce LGBT diversity into the agenda of other human rights groups that weren’t necessarily involved in the fight for diversity.

We realized we had to generate the conditions so that the marriage equality law could pass. Our cause was fortified by encouraging journalists to raise visibility of our issues, raising the debate to the social level. At the political level, there was a majority in Parliament with a progressive track record, particularly from the Left, who has typically supported our stance. Also at the political level, we took experiences from other countries, we tried different strategies.

Now that Argentina is marrying foreign couples, how does this benefit couples whose marriages won’t be recognized when they return home?

For countries that don’t recognize any form of same-sex unions, foreign gay marriages in Argentina will help raise visibility of the issue on their home turf. Our foreign marriage law gives the impression that this is truly a global movement, that sooner or later same-sex marriage will come to every country.

Legalizing foreign same-sex marriage was an important step in regional collaboration that allows for everyone from South America and beyond to come to the country and get married, creating the conditions for a debate in several countries. Couples will realize, ‘We can’t get married here, but we can get married in Argentina. When we go home, there will be problems. These couples will be returning to their countries and demanding marriage equality on their own terms.

We know that marriage won’t be possible until a judge says it’s possible. In the mean time, our judges say it’s possible. Sooner or later, marriage will be a right for all couples.

Argentina recently celebrated added protections for same-sex parents. How is Argentina’s co-paternity law different than that of the United States or Australia?

The difference with Argentina’s co-paternity law is that it’s recognized nation-wide. The federal system includes both the civil code and the penal code, and since marriage is an institution under the civil code, any changes are automatically applied to the whole country without requiring that provinces approve.

So now same-sex parents can put both their names on their child’s birth certificates without a problem?

That’s a slightly different issue. The marriage equality law established that children born from same-sex marriages have the same rights as children born to heterosexual couples. This automatically covers lesbian couples, who are anatomically capable of becoming pregnant and giving birth to children. Lesbians who have kids automatically have parental rights, even if its just one mother, and can ensure proper rights for their child.

For gay men, though, since we can’t give birth we had to seek legal protections for our children. This protection will be implemented when the measure goes to vote in November, this way gay male couples won’t have to adopt outside the country to ensure rights for their child, like Alejandro and Carlos did this year when they went to India to adopt. Now the couple can move anywhere in the country without running into any issues.

The FALGBT played an important role in the gender identity law. Are you happy with the law?

The law is great. It’s the most advanced on an international scale. It mandates that sex changes don’t require medical or judicial approval. It’s a simple process, done on the sole will of the person. It doesn’t take longer than a month for everything to go through, and it works in the entire country.

The gender identity law was introduced in 2007, and we knew we’d have to approach it from two angles, identity and health, since the law incorporates detailed processes for identity change and health resources. When the national government established how the law would operate, they didn’t involve and cover health. Since the health system is provincial, we now have to work with each provincial government to generate a specific service with respect to the law. That’s what worries us most, since there’s more than 2,000 or 3,000 people who have submitted their requests.

The dynamics of the law are more complex that gay marriage because marriage is easier to explain. People quickly understand, they understand two guys walking hand-in-hand down the aisle. Though that’s an oversimplified idea, at least it’s a clear image that people latch onto. With respect to transexual people, it’s more difficult to understand and explain. Our efforts in promoting diversity are addressing these questions, or at least addressing the negative aspects at the social level.

Has the Catholic Church been the biggest antagonist of the LGBT rights movement in Argentina?

Argentina embodies a seperation between church and state. Our family members are Catholic, they go to church, and specifically the Catholic Church continues to have a strong influence.

However, it’s been Evangelical and Pentecostal churches that have been the bigger antagonists. Last week in Argentina there was a seminar created by a religious extremist group to cure homosexuals. The group, Exodus, talks in terms of restoring, repairing and curing homosexuality.

Talk to me about the FALGBT’s youth component.

The bigger part of the FALGBT are youngsters. Most of the new organizations that came after marriage equality are quite young as well. Maria rachid, the former president left the organization at age 36. I took on the organization at 32. The majority of our members are under 30. The presidents of many organizations that make up the federation are also under 30. There’s a specific space within the FALGBT that’s working with the youth age group, focusing on education and anti-bullying, and now we’re bolstering our efforts in HIV/AIDS awareness with youths.

What are the next steps for the FALGBT?

At the legislative level, we need to approve blood donations from gays and we need to work on the passing of an anti-discrimination clause that includes gender identity and sexual orientation. We are also working on:

  • the employment and inclusion of transgender people
  • diversity efforts with several media
  • education on anti-bullying
  • health issues specific to the trans community, prevention of HIV/AIDS, women’s health for lesbians and bi-sexual women
  • coordinating with private business to launch different products that promote diversity

by Jean Paul Zapata
Source – Gay Star News