Los mismos derechos con los mismos nombres

Contributed by Marcela Fuentes UCLA
June 11, 2010
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Part of the Cluster:

The Murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado

Los mismos derechos con los mismos nombres” or “The same rights with the same names” is the motto that identifies the current campaign for marriage equality in Argentina. The most visible representatives of this new stage in the history of LGBT activism in the country are José María di Bello (41) and Alex Freyre (39), “two men in love,” as they like to define themselves. Freyre and di Bello are HIV positive and active in different organizations such as the Red Cross International and Buenos Aires AIDS Foundation.

In April of 2009 they decided to disregard the fact known by everyone: that marriage in Argentina is constrained to two people of the opposite sex. In an example of what José Muñoz calls “disidentification,”1 the couple requested a license to get married and they were turned down by the clerk on duty at the Civil Registry. Knowing that their request would be rejected and that this purely bureaucratic act could be used to spark a political action rather than mere disillusion, di Bello and Freyre had brought a notary with them who documented the event. Act 2: di Bello and Freyre took their case to court and were finally granted permission to marry by Judge Gabriela Seijas. The Judge declared that, in her understanding, to deny the couple the right to marry was not to honor the constitution’s commitment towards rights’ equality. Buenos Aires’ mayor, Mauricio Macri, did not appeal the ruling and so the wedding ceremony was set for December 1st, World AIDS day.

In Argentina, same-sex couples are able to legalize their status through civil unions in three cities (including Buenos Aires) and the province of Río Negro, in Patagonia, since 2003. In Buenos Aires, the ordinance defines “civil union” as "the union freely entered into by any two [adult] persons, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, whose legal residence is in the city of Buenos Aires and who have been in a stable and public relationship for a period of at least two years." Although the civil union ordinance was received as a big step towards social recognition, the figure of civil union does not grant the contracting parties the same rights enjoyed by married couples. For starters, the lack of an adjectival form of the noun: If those who get married are “married,” are gays and lesbians “unionized”? Not the same thing, right?

Back to our soon happily married couple: Much to our dismay, the Right mobilizes, and a very active and religiously motivated faction managed to overturn Judge Seijas’ ruling. Judge Marta Gomez Alsina ordered the wedding be suspended. The case is still open. The couple finally got married in Patagonia, in the southern city of Ushuaia, where governor Fabiana Ríos authorized them to do so. But until the law passes, the matter will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The same-sex marriage law is scheduled to be discussed in congress this year. LGBT organizations and the proponents of different forms of law modeled on eight countries (including Spain) where same-sex marriage is allowed, claim that what is needed is to only change two words for one: The words “man and woman” would be replaced by “the contracting parties” (contrayentes in Spanish). Activists state that the specification “man and woman” was added at the time when the divorce law passed (1987). Before that time, the gender- neutral word “contrayentes” would have allowed gays, lesbians, and transgender people to simply walk in and request a marriage license no problem. Why nobody did it before 1987? Perhaps because gays, lesbians, and trans people were not organized by then; perhaps the closet was too strong a form of habitation to think about public, dignified co-habitation as something worth fighting for.

Even with its backs and forths, the news about the activation of the marriage equality campaign in Argentina gave people around the globe hope. People in the U.S. became competitive in a funny, albeit problematic, way: “How come a Third-World country is more advanced than California?” “We’ll go to Patagonia to get married.” This same agenda is pushed in Argentina through activists who try to entice law- makers by arguing that they would be making history if they beat Mexico, for example, where the debate was recently re-activated. “The first country in Latin America to pass gay marriage;” politicians weigh the pros and cons of such a first.

Activists and law proponents state that polls show that 70% of the population is in favor or at least supportive of the marriage equality law. After all, there is already the civil union law, the establishment of gay-friendly neighborhoods such as San Telmo, an Annual International Tango Queer Festival, a very visible and famous trans-diva (Florencia de la V), several queer bands including Kumbia Queers (be sure to check their “La isla con chikas,” a remake of Madonna’s “La isla bonita,”) and even a bank commercial featuring a trans woman which shows that economic institutions may lead the way to tolerance when it is favorable to their interests.

Many questions emerge, though. One is why do those who oppose marriage equality feel threatened by it? And, further, what makes them such active militants “against” other people’s rights? A naïve question, some might say, especially when we look at history and revisit examples of racial tension, misogyny, and xenophobia, which are as current as homophobia. I still believe that, while we study the “predicament of the Right,” lawmakers and politicians should know better. A subject who is denied a right based on his/her sexual orientation is publicly postulated as a lesser subject. What is required from those who govern us, or from those whose decisions have impact in our lives, is that they make life more livable for the underrepresented, as in the case of queers. I see a chain of cause and consequence in a room where a same-sex marriage law is turned down and the death of a young effeminate boy or a butch woman. I cannot help but see the connection between those who strive for happy lives and are denied of that right and those whose lives are taken away because they appear as deviant or impostors, as in the case of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.

Queer people are divided over the issue of marriage because, some argue, we, as queers, should be wary of falling into the lures of homo- normativity; our identity, marked so much by the joy of being different, by the utopia of creating new institutions, new affective relations, new ways of orienting ourselves in the world (as in Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology.) I think that the curve that goes from Jorge Steven’s brutal assassination to marriage equality is our field of struggle. Settling on limited rights opens the door for misperceptions of queer people as those who deserve to die like Mercado did.

The Argentinean LGBT motto “the same rights with the same names” calls for equality; from “man and woman” to “contracting parties.” This may sound shocking to many, not only to religious fundamentalists but also to gay constituencies more used to the politics of advancing alternative sexualities than to the drive to be contracting parties ready to utter matrimonial vows. But, while it may seem weird or excessive to connect a happy married couple to a murder victim, I believe that the more we see legal parties approving progressive proposals benefiting gays, lesbians, and trans people, the less we will have to regret the loss of precious lives such as the lives of those who die under the weight of ignorance and intolerance.

  • 1. For Muñoz, the process of disidentification accounts for the survival strategies practiced by minority subjects who have to deal with a homophobic public sphere that punishes those who do not conform with what is understood as normative citizenship. What is important to grasp here is that Muñoz postulates that, in exploring choices towards self-representation , “identifying as/with” is not the only political route. Actively “dis-identifying from” toxic renditions of oneself as, say, a "lesser subject," has political value. In Freyre’s and di Bello’s case, I see the disidentification practice as dusting off the mark that assumes that two gay men have no business in a Civil Registry when it amounts to requesting a marriage license.