Friday, July 16, 2010

A queer calculation

July 15, 2010

Shortly after 4 a.m. on the frigid morning of July 15th, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to permit gay marriages nationwide, and to allow homosexual couples to adopt children. After over 14 hours of debate and fierce legislative arm-twisting, the Senate voted 33 to 27 to approve the bill. The measure both cements Argentina’s reputation as a relatively liberal outlier in a socially conservative region, and delivers a big short-term political victory to the president, Cristina Fernández, and her husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner. Whether it will help or harm their effort to remain in power past 2011, however, remains very much in question.

The Kirchners’ transformation into crusading gay-rights activists is fairly recent. Lawmakers repeatedly put forth the subject last year, but it received little presidential support. The politics of the issue changed once the ruling couple’s Front for Victory (FPV) party lost its congressional majorities. The Kirchners were looking for a controversial bill they could force through the legislature to prove the government could still get its way, and they settled on gay marriage as the best candidate. The topic would unite their leftist base, and enable them to demonise opponents of the measure—particularly the Catholic church, with which they have long had tense dealings—as retrograde bigots. Although several opposition senators pushed for a civil-union law instead, which would not include adoption rights, the Kirchners characteristically made it clear the battle would be all-or-nothing.