Obama decision on gay marriage ripples through Latin America (+video)
Gay marriage is legal in parts of Latin America, but is still controversial with much of the population. Obama's statement may reignite debate.
When Argentina legalized gay marriage in 2010, many analysts – both for and against the union of same-sex couples – said that Latin America had blazed ahead of its northerly neighbor the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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But with President Barack Obama's historic support of marriage between members of the same sex, the region is looking north, with expectations that the words of the US's top executive will reignite the debate across Latin America.
It is a risky stand in the US, with the nation squarely divided over the issue, but it has been just as controversial in Latin America: As countries have moved forward recognizing rights of gays and lesbians, from marriage, to civil unions, to adoption, the Catholic Church and conservative politicians have lashed out.
Many have questioned how Latin America, the most Catholic region in the world, has moved so far so fast on gay rights issues. It is not necessarily because residents of all countries embrace it.
“In Latin America, citizens don't support gay marriage that much,” says Margarita Corral, who worked on a 2010 survey on gay marriage by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University.
In fact, support is lower in Latin America overall than it is in the US. In Latin America, respondents reported an average support level of 26.8 points on a scale of 100. That compares with 47.4 points of average support in the US, according to the LAPOP data. (Click here to read about the study's methodology and country-by-country results. Updated data is expected in coming months.) However, acceptance varies widely across the Americas, with Argentina and Uruguay showing relatively high levels of support, above the US, while El Salvador, Guyana, and Jamaica are at the very bottom.
This data shows that the more religious residents are, the less likely they are to support gay marriage. Part of the reason it has gained ground in deeply Catholic Latin America is that while the majority of residents identify as Catholic, they are not necessarily fervently religious. And at the same time, marriage is viewed in Latin America as first and foremost a civil act carried out by the state, says Simon Cazal, the executive director of the gay rights organization Somosgay in Paraguay.