Brazil Paves Way For Legalization Of Same-Sex Unions, But Church Groups Vow To Block Any Such Measure

on May 17 2013 5:14 PM
Gay Marriage
Eight of New Mexico's 33 counties have already been granting same-sex couples marriage licenses since August. Reuters

Brazil flaunted the rainbow flag this week when its judiciary ruled that notary publics can no longer refuse to perform same-sex unions. Although this is not exactly the same as legalizing gay marriage -- there are more steps to follow for it to become a full-fledged right -- it is certainly opening the way for gays in Latin America’s largest country to marry.

The resolution by a 15-member panel led by Joaquim Barbosa, the chief justice in the nation’s high court, follows legislation in two neighboring countries, Argentina and Uruguay, where lawmakers have already passed bills authorizing same-sex marriages in the past couple of years. Nevertheless, there is still room for appeals to be filed in Brazil: The high court, the Supreme Tribunal, as well as Congress, could still overturn the measure, the New York Times reported.

In fact, Congress has faced opposition to this issue before, largely from an influential coalition of evangelical Christian and other conservative legislators. Moreover, the Catholic Church -- although somewhat in decline, according to the Portuguese-language website Terra Brazil -- continues to hold great sway. Indeed, the country is still home to the largest community of Catholics in the world. More than 126 million people, or 65 percent of Brazilians, consider themselves followers of the Roman church.

Moreover, the Catholic Church enjoys a very important presence in the political and social life of Brazil, and church officials have expressed their stern opposition to homosexual rights. Last April, Reuters reported that the church excommunicated the Rev. Roberto Francisco Daniel of Rio de Janeiro for his liberal views on homosexuality and other issues that conflict with church teachings.

Now, with this new development in gay rights in Brazil, some Christians have started to mobilize to prevent an actual law from passing, as noted by the Portuguese-language newspaper Correio Brazilense. Local TV presenter Silas Malafaia, leader of the Christian group Assembleias de Deus (God’s Assembly), has called all the so-called faithful to a demonstration in front of Congress on June 5. “Join the demonstration in Brasilia for freedom of religion, expression, life and traditional family!” Malafaia wrote on Twitter.

Malafaia has been joined in his crusade by Marco Feliciano, a conservative evangelical preacher and congress member who was recently appointed leader of the Brazilian Commission for Human Rights and Minorities -- despite his allegedly being called a homophobe and a racist, according to Correio Brazilense. Among his controversial measures, he is responsible for a draft law that would reject a decision by the Brazilian federal committee of psychologists, which in 1999 forbade psychologists from treating homosexuality as a mental disorder.

With respect to the recent decision regarding gay marriages and notaries publics, Agence France-Presse (via GlobalPost) quoted Feliciano as saying his Social Christian Party would appeal the decision in high court: “This is something most Brazilians do not want. ... It is unconstitutional. And it is invading in the turf of the legislative branch.”

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