BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – President Barack Obama’s historic endorsement of same-sex marriage is expected to have lasting impact on the nations which border and neighbor the U.S. to the south. Although Argentina legalized marriage equality in 2010, and state courts in Brazil last year held that legal civil unions there could be “rolled over” into fullfledged marriages, the issue remains a volatile one in Latin America, which has a strong tradition of conservative cultural and religious values.
A 2010 Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University survey found that, on a scale of 100, support for gay marriage averages approximately 27 points for citizens of Latin America, while marriage equality received an average support of just over 47 points in the U.S. The same survey data shows high support for gay marriage in Argentina and Uruguay—both of which ranked higher than the U.S.— with El Salvador and Guyana near the bottom of the rankings. Mexico City—at a population of over 21 million people, the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere—likewise legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
Although culturally, many gay rights advocates say that Latin Americans—who view marriage as more of a state function than a religious imperative—are just as susceptible to demographic shifts as their U.S. neighbors, there remains widespread conservative opposition south of the border for recognition of full marriage equality.
“Barack Obama is an ethical man and a philosophically confused man,” Martha Chavez, a Member of Peru’s Congress, said to reporters after the president’s announcement last Thursday. “He knows that marriage isn’t an issue only of traditions or of religious beliefs. Marriage is a natural institution that supports the union of two people of different sexes because it has a procreative function.”