Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The autonomous city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, included sexual orientation in its antidiscrimination law in 1996. In 2002 the city council had approved civil unions for same-gender couples, which became law in April, 2003. The civil union laws also have helped in the arena of reproductive rights at the city and national level, and a debate continues about a proposed law on sex education that makes discussion of queer identities mandatory while forbidding discriminatory references.

Summary of Event

Although the first queer organization in Argentina, Nuestro Mundo, was founded in 1969, the dictatorship in power from 1976 through 1983 killed many activists and forced others to leave the country. The young LGBT movement disappeared overnight. Only with the return of democracy in 1984 did a queer group emerge again, Comunidad Homosexual Argentina Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (Argentine Homosexual Community, or CHA). Despite many efforts to obtain legal benefits for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites (a locally acceptable term), the CHA was unable to get any law passed defending homosexual rights. However, in the early 1990’s the movement began to see results from its own battles and the influence of the international queer movement. After a history of legal persecution of homosexuals, the Argentine state legally recognized the CHA in 1992. [kw]Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions (Apr., 2003) [kw]Same-Gender Civil Unions, Buenos Aires Recognizes (Apr., 2003) [kw]Civil Unions, Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender (Apr., 2003) [kw]Unions, Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil (Apr., 2003) Civil unions;Argentina Buenos Aires, Argentina;same-gender civil unions[same gender] [c]Civil rights;Apr., 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions[2690] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr., 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions[2690] [c]Government and politics;Apr., 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions[2690]

When President Carlos Menem arrived in the United States in 1992, queer demonstrators denounced his regime for discrimination against LGBT people. As a result, Menem lobbied the Argentine Supreme Court to grant the CHA legal recognition to avoid a negative international image.

With the legal separation of Buenos Aires as an autonomous city, queer people found new opportunities to secure their rights. In 1996, the newly written constitution of Buenos Aires included sexual orientation in an antidiscrimination law, and in December, 2002, the Buenos Aires city council approved civil unions for people of the same gender. The law was passed with strong pressure from the queer movement, whose members remained in the city council chambers during the entire debate in order to pressure legislators on behalf of the queer movement.

The civil union law was passed in a social environment in which the influence of the Roman Catholic Church Roman Catholic Church;same-gender unions and[same gender unions] had been strongly undermined by a child abuse scandal. Julio Cesar Grassi, a priest whose television and media appearances gave him a high public profile, was found guilty of systematically raping children. As the most public figure of the Catholic Church at the time, he had damaged the Church’s image profoundly. The Church’s refusal to take a strong stance against Grassi worked against the institution itself. In this environment, it was difficult for the Church to raise a moral voice against civil unions, especially at a time when the crisis had mobilized an important sector of the population toward the political left.

The city council’s approval of civil unions was also an attempt to appear “modern” and “civilized” at a time that saw a brutal economic and political crisis and the state had lost credibility. The law took effect in April, 2003, with the creation of a Public Register for Civil Unions, and it allowed the union between any two adults to be officially recognized within the city limits. To apply for civil union, both members of the couple have to be legal residents of the city of Buenos Aires, and they have to prove that their relationship has been stable and public for at least two years.


The law has been more important in terms of its political consequences in Argentina and Latin America than for the rights it provides. There have been attempts to extend civil unions to the entire province of Buenos Aires, and it has encouraged debate in other countries where similar discussions have been waiting for public expression. This is the case in the Mexico City municipal council and the Brazilian and Colombian congresses. The current law does not deal with inheritance or adoption, two main rights heterosexuals legally enjoy through marriage. The law equally grants to civil unions some welfare rights granted to those in heterosexual marriages, such as joint health coverage. However, this right applies only to city employees. Other benefits include family leave and the legal right to make decisions for a partner in case of illness.

Despite the limitations of the Buenos Aires civil union law, symbolically it means a step forward for the LGBT community. The first union took place in July, 2003, between Cesar Cigliutti (forty-five years old) and Marcelo Suntheim (thirty-five years old), and it received full media coverage. Despite Church opposition, a growing number of people in Buenos Aires support civil unions. As part of the same process, new laws on reproductive rights have been passed both at a city and national level, and now there is a debate about a proposed law on sex education that makes discussion of queer identities mandatory while forbidding discriminatory references.

In August, 2003, the Vatican urged legislatures in predominantly Catholic countries to stop voting for measures that violate “nature” and “Christian values.” The Catholic Church, despite numerous scandals in the first few years of the twenty-first century involving priests, consistently argues against lesbian and gay rights, basing its arguments on the support of heterosexual marriage. Priests continue to oppose not only civil unions but also sexual minorities and transgender people in general, especially the most visible, such as artists and actors.

Since the civil union law was passed in Buenos Aires, the Mexican LGBT movement has pushed for the renewal of the discussion of a bill legalizing “domestic partnership” in the municipal legislature. If this bill is passed, it will cover any two people who live together, assuring bank credits and some of the social welfare benefits provided by the Mexican state. Although Chile still has not approved heterosexual divorce, the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement lobbied the Chamber of Deputies to pass a bill assuring inheritance and common property for all those who live together. In Colombia, some senators tried to pass a law granting queer couples many of the legal rights enjoyed by heterosexuals. Fifty-five members of Colombia’s parliament voted against the bill and only thirty-two supported it, defeating the struggle for equal rights in that country. Civil unions;Argentina Buenos Aires, Argentina;same-gender civil unions[same gender]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Balderston, Daniel, and Donna Guy. Sex and Sexuality in Latin America. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bazán, Osvaldo. Historia de la homosexualidad en la Argentina: De la Conquista de América al siglo XXI. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Marea, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berco, Cristian. “Silencing the Unmentionable: Non-reproductive Sex and the Creation of a Civilized Argentina, 1860-1900.” The Americas 58, no. 3 (January, 2002): 419-441.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Stephen. “Democracy and Sexual Difference: The Lesbian and Gay Movement in Argentina.” The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement, edited by Barry D. Adam, Jan Willem Duyvendak, and André Krouwel. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">The Gully.com. “Buenos Aires Approves Gay Civil Unions.” http://www.thegully.com/essays/ argentina/021214_gay_rights_ar.html.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grupo Nexo. “Union Civil: Buenos Aires, Primero.” http://www.nexo.org/noticias86.htm.

1981: Gay and Lesbian Palimony Suits Emerge

November 6, 1984: West Hollywood Incorporates with Majority Gay and Lesbian City Council

December 4, 1984: Berkeley Extends Benefits to Domestic Partners of City Employees

1992: Transgender Nation Holds Its First Protest

June, 1992: Feinberg Publishes Transgender Liberation

1993-1996: Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages

August 6, 1994: Japanese American Citizens League Supports Same-Gender Marriage

September 21, 1996: U.S. President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act

October 27, 1999: Littleton v. Prange Withholds Survivor Rights from Transsexual Spouses

December 20, 1999: Baker v. Vermont Leads to Recognition of Same-Gender Civil Unions

February 21, 2003: Australian Court Validates Transsexual Marriage

June 17, 2003, and July 19, 2005: Canada Legalizes Same-Gender Marriage

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Court Rules for Same-Gender Marriage

November 18, 2004: United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships

April 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage

June 30, 2005: Spain Legalizes Same-Gender Marriage

Categories: History