Gay law in Argentina signals waning Catholic power

BUENOS AIRES, (Reuters) – The Catholic Church’s  failure to derail a gay marriage law in Argentina shows once  powerful clergymen losing their influence in Latin America,  where pressure is growing for more liberal social legislation.

The law, which lets gay couples marry and adopt children,  was approved last week to the cheers of hundreds of gay couples  gathered outside Congress despite opposition from churchmen,  who called gay families “perverse.”

“We shouldn’t be naive: this isn’t just a political  struggle, it’s a strategy to destroy God’s plan,” Cardinal  Jorge Bergoglio, the head of the Church in Argentina, said in a  letter before the vote, urging lawmakers to reject the bill.

Mexico City and Uruguay upset the conservative Catholic  hierarchy by passing similar legislation last year, and more  liberal laws on social issues are likely in the region.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has vowed to give more  rights to same-sex couples, and Dilma Rousseff, a leading  candidate in Brazil’s presidential race, has said she favours  the legalization of abortion in a country that has the world’s  largest Catholic population.

“Evidently the Church has been losing presence and  influence regarding political decisions, which is part of a  secularization process,” said Ana Maria Bidegain, a religious  studies professor at Florida International University.

“People are still Catholic and they still believe in the  fundamentals … but they no longer agree with what (the  Church) says regarding morality,” she said.

Among other reasons, she said that churchmen have seen  their influence ebbing because the vast majority of Latin  Americans live now in urban areas where people have “their own  personal ways” to live Catholicism, and also due to highly  publicized sex abuse scandals among priests worldwide.

Extending gay rights and other social legislation being  pushed through by the region’s politicians suggest Latin  Americans are becoming more liberal in contrast with the  Church’s unbending views on sexual freedom, contraceptives and  abortion.

“We’re confident this is going to inspire other countries  in the region to follow suit … Sometimes there’s a lot of  fear to be the first, and that’s precisely what we’ve done in  Argentina, we’ve broken new ground,” said Cesar Cigliutti,  president of Argentina’s CHA gay association.

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