Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

Last week, both France and Uruguay moved one step closer to legalizing marriage equality. The two countries will become the  12th and 13th in the world to grant the right  for two people to marry regardless of gender.

The French Senate passed a bill last Friday to legalize same-sex marriage. The lower chamber of parliament, the National Assembly, passed legislation on the issue back in February. The Senate made several small changes to the bill, and both houses will now work to reconcile those differences before the bill becomes law.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Socialist Party candidate and current president Francois Hollande pledged to make same-sex marriage a reality in France. As of 1999, both gay and straight couples can enter into civil unions. Such unions do not grant all rights of marriage, however, most notably the right to adopt.

As in many countries around the world, the gay marriage debate in France has been contentious. Supporters and opponents of the bill have been extremely vocal in the last few months. In January, each side held massive rallies that drew hundreds of thousands into the streets.

Justice Minister Christine Taubira highlighted the emotional side of the issue when speaking with Senators after the bill was passed.

“These are children [of same-sex couples] that scrape their knees, eat too much candy, don’t like broccoli, drive you crazy … we protect them,” said Taubira.

In Uruguay, the lower house of Congress passed a bill to legalize gay marriage, with a strong majority of 71 of 92 members voting in favor. This vote all but guaranteed marriage equality in the country, as the Senate passed the bill a week earlier by a vote of 23-8. It now awaits the signature of President Jose Mujica, who has vowed to make marriage equality a reality in the country. Uruguay will become the second Latin American nation to legalize same-sex marriage after Argentina.

Similar to the 2010 debate on same-sex marriage in Argentina, as well as the current debate in France, the Roman Catholic Church in Uruguay spearheaded opposition efforts for the measure. The Church sought to protect what they view as a millennia-old traditional institution.

“Why make relative or devalue an institution that is already so injured, like the family, introducing deep modifications that are going to confuse more than clarify?” wrote Pablo Galimberti, bishop of Salto, on the website of the Uruguayan Bishops Council.

President Mujica responded to the Church, arguing that the legalization of same-sex marriages would only affect civil marriages. Uruguay already permits same-sex couples to adopt and enter into civil unions. Interestingly, the same-sex marriage bill also raised the age of consent in the country to 16. Currently, the age of consent in Uruguay is 12 and 14, for women and men, respectively.

Uruguay’s move towards marriage equality has been part of a progressive trend across the Americas in recent years. In 2009, same-sex marriage was legalized in Mexico City. In Brazil, several state courts established same-sex marriage rights in 2011. In the United States, nine states and the District of Columbia permit same sex marriages. In 2005, Canada became the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage.

Back across the Atlantic, Britain’s House of Commons passed a marriage equality bill in early February by a margin of 400-175. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has been an outspoken supporter of marriage equality. The bill is awaiting a Third Reading in the House and approval from the House of Lords and the Queen, all of which are anticipated to transpire this summer.