After 15 hours of debate, the Argentine Senate passed the marriage equality bill 33-27 at 4:05am local time.
Same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay and some states in Mexico and Brazil. Colombia's Constitutional Court granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans. Mexico City went further, legalizing gay marriage and launching tourism campaigns to encourage foreigners to come and wed.
"Argentina's political class has provided a lesson to the rest of Latin America," said Rolando Jimenez in Santiago. "We hope our own countries and political parties will learn that the human rights of sexual minorities are undeniable."
Activists in Paraguay plan to propose a similar law to the senate in October, said Martin Viveros of the group Somosgay. And in Uruguay, gays unsatisfied with the partial rights that come through civil unions are preparing legislation that would replace references to "man and woman" with "spouse" throughout the civil code.
The president, who helped the law's chances by bringing two senators opposed to gay marriage with her on a state visit to China, spoke out from there against the Catholic Church's campaign and the tone she said some religious groups have taken.
"It's very worrisome to hear words like 'God's war' or 'the devil's project,' things that recall the times of the Inquisition," she said.
That may play well in Argentina's socially liberal capital, where many of the country's gays and lesbians live, but could be costly in the conservative provinces. Some opposition leaders accused Fernandez and her husband Nestor Kirchner, who lobbied hard for passage, of trying to gain votes in next year's presidential elections, when the former president is expected to run again.
Congratulations to Argentina! I may just have to change my travel plans for my 20th anniversary next January. We were thinking of visiting South Africa, but maybe we should return to South America instead!