Argentina’s had a pretty crazy, if not uninteresting, political history — from a military regime in the ’40s, to Juan Perón and “peronism” (and Eva “Evita” Duarte, his famous second wife) in the ’40s and ’50s, to various coups and a succession of short-lived governments in the ’50s and ’60s, to an authoritarian military dictatorship in the ’60s and ’70s following the so-called Revolución Argentina, to Perón again, now more of a right-wing tyrant (with Isabel Martínez, his third wife, as vice president), to Martinez, succeeding her husband as president upon his death, to a military coup that toppled her, to the “dirty war” that accompanied subsequent military rule, to the emergence of legitimate democratic rule in the ’80s, all the way to the rule of the Kirchners, husband (Nestor) and then wife (Cristina Fernández de), since ’03.
And, of course, it has a pretty crazy national soccer coach, Diego Maradona.
But there’s no denying that it can be a pretty progressive place, not least with respect to gay rights:
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Senate narrowly approved a law early on Thursday authorizing same-sex marriages, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed.
After nearly 15 hours of debate, the Senate voted 33 to 27 in favor of the measure, which was sponsored by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. For weeks, she waged a bitter war of words with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue, saying that it would be a “terrible distortion of democracy” to deny gay couples the right to wed and that it was time for religious leaders to recognize how much more liberal and less discriminatory the nation’s social mores had become.
In its race to derail the change, the church organized large protests involving tens of thousands of opponents of the measure, with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, calling the bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”
Kirchner deserves enormous credit for standing up to the Church, which dominates Argentina, and its bigotry. If only there were such moral and political courage to be found in Washington among supporters of gay rights, instead of the cowardice of those who at most back “civil unions,” which are separate and unequal.
Portugal and Iceland also legalized gay marriage this year, adding to the small but steadily expanding list of nations, most of them in Europe, to do so.
But in a region where the separation of church and state is not always so clear, the law demonstrated a rare but increasing willingness by some Latin American nations to confront the church on fundamental issues, like Chile’s legalization of divorce and Brazil’s public distribution of contraceptives in recent years.
“There is no question that the law is unusual for a country that is not as secular as Western European democracies,” said Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College. “There’s a clear conflict with the church. Very seldom do we see presidents willing to fight the church so strongly on this particular issue in Latin America,” even in countries led by left-leaning governments.
Argentina’s new law will give gay people the same marital rights as heterosexuals, including adoption and inheritance rights, and reflects the broadening legal recognition of same-sex relationships across Latin America.
I’ll probably never cheer for Argentina in soccer, not after Maradona’s “hand of God” against England in ’86, not to mention various other transgressions, but I heartily cheer this huge step forward for equal rights, not least in a country with such a suspect past.
And as Argentina and much of the rest of the civilized world moves on into a more just and decent future, the U.S. finds itself being left further and further behind in a dark age of its own exceptional intolerance.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)