Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brazil says yes to same-sex unions

Think it can't happen in a majority-Catholic country?  Never lose optimism.  In Brazil, the largest Catholic country in the world, the Supreme Court issued a ruling this month (May 2011) that same-sex couples must be treated equally before the law.  The unanimous 10-0 decision makes same-sex civil unions the law of the land throughout Brazil.

The court ruled that the same rights and rules that apply to stable unions between heterosexual couples will apply to same-sex couples, including the right of joint declaration of income tax, pension, inheritance and property sharing, and also makes it much easier for same-sex couples to jointly adopt a child.  The ruling does not completely open up Brazil to full marriage equality, but rather leaves it up to individual judges whether to issue A) a marriage license or B) a civil union license to same-sex couples.

A civil union bill had been stalled in Brazilian Congress since 1995, which is why the Brazilian Supreme Court finally stepped in, deciding that gay and lesbian citizens cannot merely be denied their rights and forced to "wait and hope" forever. 

Brazil joins fellow South American nations Colombia, Uruguay, and Ecuador, which also have nationwide civil unions, and Argentina which has had full marriage equality since 2010.  A civil union bill is also currently pending in Venezuela, and just this week Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, asked the Chilean congress to pass a civil union bill.  "We must safeguard the dignity of those couples," said Mr. Pinera, "whether of the opposite or even the same sex."

Update:  June 27, 2011.  A judge in Sao Paulo has ruled that two men in a civil union can convert their civil union into a marriage.  Brazil's Supreme Court decision on civil unions gives individual judges discretion as to whether a same-sex union will be registered as a "civil union" or a "marriage."  With this ruling, Sao Paulo became the home of Brazil's first official same-sex marriage.  Congrats!


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