Argentina Passes First National Gay Marriage Law in Latin America

Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage on Thursday after a landmark vote from its congress.

Following a marathon 16-hour debate, Argentina's Senate passed the measure in a 33-27 vote with three abstentions. The bill was already approved by the lower house and has been supported by President Cristina Fernandez.

"Nearly every political and social figure has spoken out in favor of marriage equality for everyone," said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, according to the Associated Press. "Argentina, from today forward, is a more just country for all families."

Meanwhile, Catholic leaders, who claim to represent nearly 90 percent of country's population, voiced vehement protests over the law's passage.

Bishop Jorge Luis Lona told Catholic News Agency that the bill "defies both faith and reason" and is "a rejection of God and is absurd."

Lona also claimed that legislators against the law were heavily pressured to the point of threats and extortion and that the law is a "complete mockery of the will of the Argentinean people."

Meanwhile, other churches in the region showed their support for the measure, including the Evangelical Church of the River Plate and United Evangelical Lutheran Church, who issued a statement in May saying that they welcome "any initiative to redress situations of injustice and discrimination suffered by minorities in our society."

The groups, which are both members of the World Council of Churches, added that they are "committed to working towards building a society that is more just and inclusive."

Pro-gay groups in the United States have also given their approval to Thursday's vote, including Freedom to Marry, who lauded the move as a sign that Argentina has come to embrace "true democratic values."

"Argentina's vote for the freedom to marry marks an important advance for fairness and family values as more couples around the world will now share in marriage, with families helped and no one hurt," they said. "Today's vote adds momentum to the international movement to secure the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples."

With its vote, Argentina joins a handful of mostly European countries where same sex marriage is legal including Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.

The country's capital city, Buenos Aires, had already legalized same-sex civil unions, as have Uruguay and some Mexican and Brazilian states. Gay marriage is also legal in Mexico City.

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