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Yawning on Social Change in Bs As

July 15, 2010

Interesting news out of the Rioplatense:

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Senate narrowly approved a measure early on Thursday authorizing same-sex marriages, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed.

After 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 measure.

I don’t really have anything to add here, except to say the “even Argentina does it” argument isn’t really relevant.  Greenwald:

That’s what is most striking here:  this is not happening in some small Northern European country renown for its ahead-of-the-curve social progressivism (though gay marriage or civil unions are now the norm in Western Europe).   Just as is true for Brazil, which I’ve written about before with regard to my personal situation, Argentina is a country with a fairly recent history of dictatorships, an overwhelmingly Catholic population (at least in name), and pervasive social conservatism, with extreme restrictions on abortion rights similar to those found on much of the continent.  The Catholic Church in Argentina vehemently opposed the enactment of this law.  But no matter.  Ending discrimination against same-sex couples is understood as a matter of basic equality, not social progressivism, and it thus commands widespread support.

What Greenwald finds striking I find extraordinarily… bleh.  Argentina doesn’t have a “pervasive social conservatism” when it comes to the opinions of its actual citizenry.  The Catholicism of the Argentine people is something that’s understated by the adjective “nominal” — it’s more like arcane or vestigial or some other adjective describing something that’s still official but extremely out-of-date, like the British monarchy.  In my experience, nobody in Argentina goes to mass.  The Church was on the wrong side of the military dictatorship of the late 70s and early 80s, an era in which thousands of people were murdered by the state for political opposition, highlighted by the country’s failed invasion of the Falkland Islands as an attempt to gain political momentum via widespread public nationalism.

Indeed, the only reason the Church still has such a huge lobby — the vote was virtually split in the Senate — is because it’s still the only religious presence in the country.  The only other faith anybody even pretends to subscribe to is the “Maradonian” church, created in order to worship soccer legend Diego Maradona.  That’s why the Catholic lobby still has such a disproportionate influence in politics even though the actual devout sect of the Argentina populace is not very large.

Sure, abortion is basically illegal there, but Argentina is widely regarded as recording more abortions than any other country in the Western hemisphere — probably due to restricted access and/or use of contraceptives — even though it’s done overwhelmingly under the table, so to speak.  This isn’t a religiously pious country that recognized what an evil same-sex marriage bans are to a democratic population.  It’s not like Argentines are uber-Christians who, unspoiled by the fierce demagoguery of American politics, realized that marriage is a right that should be extended to all people of all walks of life.  Saying “even Argentina is doing it” is like saying “even France is doing it”.  That’s not to say anything about the merits of the legislation, but it is to say… bleh.  It’s not really a big deal.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. blackwatertown permalink
    July 15, 2010 4:34 PM

    Informative post.
    Reminds of the last days before Ireland (the Republic of Ireland that is) removed its constitutional ban on homosexuality. Even though it was banned, in the capital Dublin at least, in practical terms Ireland was often a more gay friendly place than the UK, which was legally far more progressive. Since then the constitution has caught up with everyday life and common decency in this respect.

    • July 15, 2010 6:17 PM

      Good point. For what it’s worth — which is probably not much, as the American public probably doesn’t know anything about the nature of Argentine society anyway, evidenced by the very existence of the “even Argentina is doing it” argument — I think this probably hurts the odds of authorizing same-sex marriage in the United States, as it’s more likely to reinforce the fact it takes a populace that’s more gay-friendly and less religiously oriented than our own to implement the legislation nation-wide, which would make politicians less likely to pursue it.

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