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Opinion and Analysis: Gender and Sexuality

Venezuela Should Follow Argentina's Example on Gay Rights

Argentina made history yesterday morning after a vociferously debated proposal permitting same sex marriage passed the country’s Senate by a vote of 33-27.

The country now has the honor of claiming that it is Latin America’s first to end the institutionally discriminatory practice of prohibiting gay marriage.  It is a measure that should be applauded by all those who are opposed to inequality and oppression based on sexual orientation. 

Of course, the new law did not pass easily as opponents of the proposal were well organized and well funded.  Leading the opposition were, predictably, the conservative elements of the Catholic Church whose influence in Argentina and Latin America continues to be enormous.  But the fact that such a measure could pass in a country where 91% of the population considers itself to be catholic is an inspiration for Latin America and the rest of the world.

Venezuela should follow Argentina’s lead and likewise erase the legally bigoted conception of marriage as defined by a union that exists between a man and a woman only.  In fact, it is ironic that while the government of Venezuela currently finds itself embroiled in a war of words with the Church’s hierarchy over its interference in the politics (see http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5488), the Chávez government has done remarkably little to substantially challenge this conservative establishment. 

The Venezuelan government still provides funding to the Church, abortion is still illegal, and gay rights receive scant attention from lawmakers in the country’s National Assembly.  As such, some observers might interpret the recent accusations and counter-accusations passing between the government and the Church to be more akin to political grandstanding during an election year rather than a true clash of progressive and conservative interests in society.      

The topic of same sex marriage is a perfect issue for the government of Venezuela to raise and show that it is ready to take on the conservative elements of the Catholic Church and win, as Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and LGBT groups did in Argentina. Gay rights advocates and the growing LGBT movement in Venezuela should see the Argentine example as a tremendous opportunity to organize and push forward similar change in Venezuela.

With perhaps the most progressive constitution in the world, the Venezuelan people ratified in 1999 a document that enshrines the rights of historically disenfranchised peoples and provides opportunities for the citizenry as never before seen in the country’s history.  But on the topic of gay rights, the constitution is silent, indicative of the historic malaise of cultural machismo that still affects the country – a condition fuelled by the homophobic dogmas of the Catholic Church.  A proposal has been introduced in Venezuela’s National Assembly to affirm gender equality and legalize same-sex civil unions (see http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/4632) but progress on turning this proposal into law has been slow. 

Chavez supporters currently occupy more than 90% of the seats in Venezuela’s legislative branch.  National Assembly elections this September may reduce some of this control, but the Chavistas are still expected to maintain a strong majority.  The time is right for the government to open a national debate on this topic and challenge the conservative and discriminatory anti-values that the Catholic Church and its hierarchy continue to inculcate in Venezuelan society.  If Argentina can do it, why can’t Venezuela?