Gay Marriage in Argentina

2006.Sep.15 Friday · 0 comments

in Life

“It is difficult to say who do you the most harm: enemies with the worst intentions or friends with the best.”

– Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, 19th Century British politician, poet, and novelist (infamous for his novel Paul Clifford, that begins with “It was a dark and stormy night…

Gay Marriage poster

Buenos Aires – Earlier this week I saw an announcement posted about a panel discussion on the proposed gay marriage law here in Argentina. I’m of mixed feelings about the whole idea of gay marriage laws – not because I think that we should have lesser privileges than straight couples, not because I think there’s some “one man and one woman” inherentness (we made the idea of legalized marriage up at some point in our history), but, because I’m of the view that marriage ought to be a personal ceremony between two people that are committing to each other for their lives, with the support of friends and family, as opposed to what it so often seems these days, a piece of paper issued by an office that attaches them to each other until they decide to file for another piece of paper. But still, I do think that if we’re going to have an institution that gives people privileges, rights, and extra options, that the institution ought to be open to everyone (of legal age, and of sufficiently “sound” mind, to make an informed decision, and at least until we run into another truly sentient species, limited to humans – there, did I cover all the spurious arguments?).

Other than the e-mailed announcement that I’d seen, I saw nothing else during the week leading up to the event about it. It’s the kind of thing that being from New York I’m used to seeing posters, banners, flyers, news pieces, protests, etc. in regard to. It’s the kind of thing that heading to a several hundred seat local auditorium ought to be packed to the rafters, standing room only. I went with a friend, and we arrived promptly at 6 – no thoughts that it would start on time, but figured at least we stood a chance of still getting a seat. There were two already taken, plus a woman in a wheelchair in one aisle, so our options were clearly limited. Two of the six panelists had arrived, though they were the two who’d organized the event. There was a stack of posters about the event at the back of the room – there weren’t any posted in or around the school where the event was held, but they were clearly ready should anyone decide they wanted to actually post them. At 6:50, when the 50-60 folk who’d gradually gathered were starting to shift restlessly, one of the organizers announced that they’d be starting in about five minutes. Apparently, as it turned out, that meant they’d gotten a call from the last panelist that she was momentarily to be arriving, which she did shortly.

We were anticipating an interesting debate. The panel consisted of the presidents of the local and the Spanish gay rights organizations, a local gay activist writer, a university professor who is also the president of the national anti-discrimination “institute”, and a representative from both the Senate and the Congress of Argentina. It’s a topic that always, in the U.S., draws a lot of heated discussion, pro and con. We anticipated protestors. What we got were half a dozen panelists looking like they’d been interrupted from doing something they considered more important sitting at a raised table; five dozen or so people in the audience ranging from their 20s to their 60s, and in a range of garb from jeans and t-shirts to suits, and all sitting quietly, many reading books or newspapers, as if waiting for a lecture to begin.

And, that’s pretty much what we got. There was no debate. There was no panel discussion. A moderator introduced the six panelists and then disappeared, not to be seen again. Nearly immediately, the professor pulled her i-pod out of her purse, and got up and walked out of the room. She returned a bit later and sat and chatted with a woman on her right, then left with the i-pod again. She came back in time to do her piece. The initial speaker, the president of the Spanish gay and lesbian rights organization, delivered a fifteen minute talk about the hard work that it had been to get the gay marriage act passed in Spain, and asserted that Argentina had even harder work ahead of it, and maybe it was time that they got to it. Then she pulled out a guidebook and spent the rest of the time flipping pages, reading and occasionally asking her seated neighbors their opinions. The second speaker, the president of the Argentine association, announced that she hadn’t bothered to write down anything to say, so instead she’d read an article that had been written by someone in the organization about why gay marriage is important. And she did, for ten minutes, she read from an article that basically asserted that gay marriage is important because we ought to have the same rights as everyone else. Then she sat back and stared into space for the rest of the evening. During her reading, about a quarter of the audience left, apparently having just come to hear the woman from Spain talk.

The third speaker was the woman who’d breezed in at last moment, wearing calf-high fur boots and, bluntly, decked out looking like she ought to be standing on a street corner in a less savory neighborhood. She turned out to be the senator. In a clearly bored tone, though rapid-fire, as if she needed to leave soon, she announced that the homosexuals out there had to realize what they were up against, and that this was the first time she was hearing the ideas that had just been presented. She then proceeded to read sections from the various provincial law codes that pertained to homosexuals, point out that before trying for a national gay marriage amendment to the constitution, possibly there was a need to first convince the rest of the country that Buenos Aires’ city code that permits civil unions was a good idea, then she blew air kisses to the rest of the panel and walked out during the applause.

The congresswoman was up next, and looked supremely terrified. Her talk seemed a bit convoluted, but as best I could follow it, she seemed to be saying that it looked to her like it was all probably well and good and probably not a bad idea, because she really felt that no one should be discriminated against, but that it all seemed like an awful lot of hard work, and a lot of time to put into something that was likely not to happen until well into the future, and maybe we just all needed to learn to get along. She was followed by the only man on the panel, the gay activist writer. Now you’d think that this is someone who would have something to say on the matter. You’d think this is someone who could have written an interesting speech, covering the topic well, asserting his points, all that good stuff. Of course, noting that he’d shown up in ratty sweats, and clearly not having just come from the gym, but more of his daily uniform, we might have been concerned. When he pulled out a paperback book and opened it up at the start of his speech, we thought perhaps he was going to read us some great quote, or perhaps something from his writings. But no, he proceeded to read to us from a book written by someone else, that covered the days and the work leading up to the passage of the civil union law – and that’s all he really did – read us the history of those days up to the tension filled final moments, after which he snapped the book shut and sat back.

Around this time, the professor had wandered back in, wrapped her i-pod back up with its earphones, and then she launched. I’d forgotten how pedantic professors can be. But here was not only a university professor, but the president of INADI, the Instituto Nacional contra la Discriminación! She was, at least, not to be denied her platform, or treated by her fellow panelists as she’d treated them. She spent more than half an hour talking, rarely looking at the audience, but spending most of her time with eyes raised to the heavens, but every few moments turning in her seat to face whichever other panelist seemed to have sat back not paying rapt attention, and fix them with a glare until they sat back forward. Most of her talk was about how hard the feminist movement had been over the past decades, how much work she’d put into it, and how the gays and lesbians really owed a debt to all the toil and strife that the feminists had already gone through in introducing the whole idea of anti-discrimination in the country.

By this point in the evening, after more than two hours of non-substantial, dull, information presentation, more than half the audience had already left. We decided to as well. It’s possible there was some sort of discussion amongst the panelists after we did, it’s possible there was a q&a session, but if so it wasn’t well attended, as another quarter of the audience left when we did. All the panelists got equal applause at the end of their talks. No one hissed or called out challenges. There were no protestors in evidence. None of it seemed to have been coordinated in advance other than getting the panelists to eventually show up – their talks didn’t play off of one another, and not one of them presented their personal opinions or a reasoned argument on the topic. It was all just matter of fact, and none of it was particularly encouraging (and I mean that in the sense of there was no one up there being encouraging about getting anything done).

And that, seems to be the state of gay marriage in Argentina.

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