Gay rights advance in Colombia —Brazil next?

The Chamber of Representatives of the Colombian Congress voted 62-43 the night of June 14 to approve a law recognizing civil unions. The law would allow same-sex couples to register if they have lived together for two years and are not in other marriages or civil unions. If one partner dies, the survivor would automatically inherit and would receive social security payments and other work-related benefits. The Senate is expected to approve the law and send it to rightwing president Alvaro Uribe for approval on June 19; supporters expect no obstacles from Uribe. Although some Latin American cities have recognized same-sex unions–including Mexico City last November–no country in the region has passed a national law for civil unions. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, June 16 from AP)

Millions of Brazilians and foreign tourists turned out on June 10 for Sao Paulo’s 11th Annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March. For several years the Sao Paulo event has been the world’s largest Pride march; observers put participation this year at more than 3 million, somewhat higher than last year’s march, estimated at 2.5 million to 3 million. This year’s theme was “For a world without racism, homophobia or sexism.” Sebastiao Pereira Rodrigues, a mechanic participating in the event, told the Associated Press wire service: “Things have gotten better for us in recent years. The prejudices we suffered from for years have diminished a lot, but they are still there and we have a long way to go.” (Telemundo, June 10 from AP; El Pais, Montevideo, June 11 from AFP)

In the federal Congress, 187 deputies and 28 senators linked to Catholic groups and evangelical Protestants are trying to block a series of proposed rights laws, including legislation that would make homophobia a crime, legalize same-sex unions and permit sex changes. On June 7, some 1 million evangelicals from around the country demonstrated in Sao Paulo in the annual “March for Jesus,” held each year on Corpus Christi (“Body of Christ”) Thursday. “Go back, satanism; go back, homosexualism!” Pastor Andre Fabiano exhorted the crowd.

The evangelical march’s founders, Estevam Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes (“Apostle Estevam and Bishop Sonia”), were arrested in Florida in January for smuggling more than $56,000 cash on a flight from Sao Paulo to Miami, including $9,000 hidden in a Bible. On June 8, the day after this year’s march, the couple pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami; US District Judge Federico Moreno set sentencing for Aug. 17. Brazil is seeking their extradition from the US to face charges of fraud, larceny, tax evasion and money laundering. (El Pais, June 11 from AFP; Christian Today, June 9; Miami Herald, June 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 17

See our last posts on Colombia and Brazil.