Representatives of 47 Venezuelan LGBT organizations and their allies gathered outside the National Assembly in Caracas this morning and handed in 20,000 signatures asking legislators to consider a civil marriage equality bill in their next legislative session.
For months, LGBT organizations had canvassed for signatures throughout the country and earned the support of legislators affiliated with President Nicolas Maduro's government - including former president Hugo Chávez's brother - as well as opposition party politicians.
Efforts to bring these signatures to the capital have received comprehensive coverage by tightly controlled official media channels including the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN).
According to AVN several socialist party legislators welcomed the signatures and vowed to process the request.
"It is our obligation to accept the proposals the people bring to us and it is our obligation to hand these proposals to the [National Assembly's] executive committee for them to assign the matter to the appropriate legislative commission," said socialist party member Elvis Amoroso.
Amoroso added "Our commander Hugo Chávez as well as the President of the Republic Nicolás Maduro always expected us to attend to those who govern us - the people of Venezuela - and here before us is part of those people we represent."
That's not quite accurate. As president the late Hugo Chávez rarely discussed LGBT issues and when he was asked about same-sex marriage in 2009 he said Venezuela wasn't ready for it and he personally didn't see it as a "good thing."
Maduro, for his part, ran one of the most homophobic presidential campaigns in recent Latin American history even as he professed love for the gays and welcomed their votes.
But, at least rhetorically, there seem to be signs of an increasing willingness to at least consider addressing the needs of Venezuela's LGBT community.
Estimated at 300, the crowd that gathered outside the National Assembly this morning chanted "If the Pope were gay, [same-sex] marriage would already be legal" as heard in this video clip from the AFP.
Here is Edgar Manuel Baptista from the Pro-Inclusion political party addressing reporters about the importance of the proposed marriage equality legislature:
Pedro Zerolo sends his support from Spain: There will be a day in which the untold history of how the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE) and the Spanish National Federation of Gays and Lesbians (FELGBT) traveled to Latin America and planted some of the seeds for marriage equality in Argentina and Uruguay after securing passage of their own law in 2005. Those efforts were led by the Venezuelan-born attorney and Spanish councilmember Pedro Zerolo who never lost sight of Latin America despite living in Spain for more than two decades.
On January 7th, El Pais broke the devastating news that the long-time LGBT rights activist had been diagnosed with cancer. He has vowed to fight the illness but, amazingly and movingly, took time from his treatments to tape a message supporting these marriage equality efforts in Venezuela:
Pedro Zerolo: Dear friends, January 31st of 2014 will be a historic day in Venezuela. It marks the first step towards the recognition of LGTB men and women's equality and dignity. And I am specifically saying "dignity and equality" which means enjoying the same rights others do and with the same terminology. Friends, on January 31st a marriage equality bill will be presented before the National Assembly. A legislative bill properly vetted and supported by a social network that I am certain will make it a reality sooner than later. Why? Because love has to be legal. Love. Has. To. Be. Equal. Because it is a bill that does not attempt against anything or anyone but is in favor of a diverse Venezuela that has to recognize equal rights of all its citizenship. Because Venezuela belongs to all of us - including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. Friends, from Madrid, I send my full support. If we did it in Spain, we can also do it in Venezuela. Venezuela can and has to be on time with a rendezvous with equality. It has to recognize the equality of its citizens. I am certain we will be able to accomplish this. That's why, from Spain, I send all my energy, all my strength and the strongest of hugs.Same-sex couples with marriage licenses from Argentina ask the Venezuelan government to recognize their marriages: In the meantime, a number of couples holding marriage licenses from Argentina are also taking a different route and have gone to the courts to ask that their marriages be recognized by the Venezuelan government.
A year ago in January Roberto Di Giacomo and José Ramón Merentes went to court to ask that their partnership of 16 years be recognized as a civil union.
On November 30th of 2013 that petition was dismissed along with those of two other couples on the basis that the Venezuelan constitution made it clear that civil unions and marriages were only allowed for heterosexual couples (the petition handed to the National Assembly this morning asks that the constitutional language be changed to lift those restrictions).
But a week before their petition was denied Di Giacomo and Merentes were actually getting married in Argentina which allows marriages between same-sex couples from other countries (that's Mr. Di Giacomo and Mr. Merentes in the photo above receiving a marriage license from a judge in Buenos Aires on November 22nd).
Now they are joining two other couples who received marriage licenses in Argentina in challenging the government to recognize those marriages as valid.
The other two couples are Raymer Diaz and Edwin Erminy and Migdely Miranda and Giniveth Soto Quintana (pictured above at today's rally holding marriage licenses from Argentina).
On December 16th, a civil court turned down the petition by Ms. Miranda and Ms. Soto but they are appealing that decision.
Speaking to a reporter for the National Assembly's website, Ms. Soto explained that her wife Migdely was three months pregnant and that she wanted to be recognized as a married couple to protect her wife and their unborn child.
"We want the legislators of the National Assembly to recognize our child and our family," she said, "we are being forced to emigrate to other [South American] countries such as Argentina where these laws are recognized."
Ms. Soto also said she would be lobbying her uncle Fernando Soto Rojas, an influential member of the ruling socialist party and former president of the National Assembly to gather support for marriage equality among his colleagues.
More scenes from the rally...
- Venezuelan LGBT rights movement submits proposal for same-sex marriage (Venezuelan Analysis)
- Venezuelan NGO's submit bill for legalization of same-sex marriage (Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights)
- Venezuela activists petition for same-sex marriage (AFP)
- Venezuela to seek modification of civil code to legalize gay marriage (Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela)
- Additional photos here