Thursday, November 01, 2007

Argentina: President elect coy on LGBT issues, activists split on same-sex partnership strategy

Despite rumors that she might have to face a run-off in the Argentinian presidential elections Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, wife of sitting Argentinian president Néstor Kirchner, earned 43% of the vote last weekend in a resounding victory and became the first woman ever to be elected president of Argentina.

Most US commentary that I have seen, even in the LGBT news blogs, have touched upon the supposed similarities between the presidential power couple and our own presidential couple - or on how fabulous-looking and fashionable she seems to be.

Steve Ralls at Bilerico picked up on a blog post at Hepzibah, written before the election, to note that a close Krichner supporter, Senator Vilma Ibarra (pictured right), had introduced a bill proposing changes in the country's Civil Code that would allow same-sex couples to marry (a detailed Spanish language Pagina/12 article on the bill can be found here).

Some saw the move as an indication of where the Kirchner camp might go in the future in regards to the recognition of same-sex partnerships in Argentina.

Then again, Senator Ibarra announced her intention to submit the bill a mere two weeks before last week's election and Pagina/12 pointedly pointed out that Ibarra was the sole sponsor (Ibarra chalked the lack of support up to the fact that political leaders were hesitant to sign up to such legislation in an electoral season but that begs the question: Why not wait until the elections were over to introduce the bill in order to find additional sponsors?).

Another newspaper, El Tribuno de la Salta, also drew questions about the timing, noting that Ibarra is set to step down in December which would leave the bill in uncertain waters.

In addition, press coverage also noted that while Ibarra was among the lead Kirchner supporters, the President-elect was nowhere to be found when they tried to ask about her views on the bill.

As a matter of fact, Kirchner was only one of four candidates (out of thirteen) that did not respond to questionnaires sent by the Argentinian LGBT-rights organization Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (or CHA) on her stand on several issues relevant to the LGBT community - including whether a civil unions law that passed in Buenos Aires in 2002 should be strengthened and expanded to cover the entire country.

Now, there has been an interesting and little-noticed split among the leading Argentinian LGBT rights organizations and leaders on the issue of civil unions vs. marriage.

The CHA, which was formed in 1984, has long led the drive that led to the successful introduction of the civil unions bill that was approved in Buenos Aires in 2002, making the city the first in Latin America to recognize same-sex partnerships (actually CHA secretary Marcelo Suntheim and CHA president Cesar Cigliutti where the first Argentinian couple to enter into a civil union, both are pictured left at the official ceremony) . They have continued to advocate for a national civil union law that would strengthen and expand on the rights offered by the existing Buenos Aires law.

In the meantime, 2006 saw the launch of the Argentinian LGBT Federation (FALGBT), a network of 15 LGBT Argentinian organizations that is led by long-time LGBT rights activist Maria Rachid. On February 14 of this year the Federation made a splash with the announcement that Rachid would head to the Civil Registry office with her partner Claudia Castro and ask for a marriage license, threatening to go to the courts if they turned them down (Maria and Claudia also happen to be the leaders of La Fulana, which advocates for the rights of lesbian and bisexual women, they are pictured on the right and is one of the member organizations of the FALGBT).

It is the first time that I am aware that there has been a concerted strategy in a Latin American country to ask for same-sex marriage rights as opposed to civil unions (so far, it's been a losing strategy with a second couple being denied the right to marriage by the Civil Chamber as Pagina/12 reported just yesterday, Maria and Claudia's court challenge is still making it's way through the courts). No surprise, then, that they have backed the Ibarra bill.

The CHA, noticeably absent from the groups that conform the Federation, has been mostly silent regarding the pro-marriage efforts of the FALGBT while sticking to their civil union strategy. By all measures they have also sustained a civil and working relationship with the Federation (and vice-versa).

Which probably explains why on the eve of the election the pro-marriage FALGBT, while supporting the Ibarra marriage bill, also urged the Argentinian LGBT community not to vote for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for "not pronouncing" herself on the rights of the LGBT community.

But wait! Kirchner speaks!

At the last possible minute, after months of avoiding media (or questions from the CHA and FALGBT), the President-elect suddenly opened up days before the election and was uncharacteristically forthcoming on LGBT issues (sorta like Hillary did when, after months of refusing to meet LGBT political organizations in New York, she decided to have a high-profile meeting on the eve of her presidential announcement).

As part of a radio interview that took place on October 24th and as reported by Perfil, Kirchner didn't necessarily support same-sex marriage but she did espouse generic platitudes that sounded like she did: "I believe in the free will of all men and women in Argentina to choose their sexuality," she said (Hmm... me thinks sexuality is mostly not a choice?).

Furthermore she said "It's not an issue on which I have to express myself [why not?], in all respects it's an issue that has to be debated in the Parliament."

Then there is a SentidoG article written by a member of a NYC-based Argentinian LGBT organization in which it is said that members "exchanged words" with the then-candidate at an "exclusive" Waldorf Astoria Hotel campaign fundraiser breakfast on October 26th. Aside from a nice photo op, though, the article fails to say whether Kirchner said anything about LGBT rights in Argentina (other than to say that she spoke about her commitment to "human rights").

Kirchner is certainly miles ahead on LGBT issues compared to some of the conservative candidates that she faced in the presidential elections but, like her husband, she leaves a lot to be desired about how strong an LGBT rights ally she will be as the president of Argentina.

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