Uruguay will allow gay adoption, a first for Latin America

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 9, 2009 

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay, long-regarded as one of the most progressive countries in Latin America, set a standard for the region by allowing same-sex couples to adopt children with a bill that passed the Senate on Wednesday.

While gay rights activists celebrated the passage of the bill, the Roman Catholic Church voiced its opposition, beginning with a strongly worded statement released in August by the Archbishop Nicolas Cotugno of Montevideo, Uruguay's capital city.

On Wednesday following the vote, Uruguayan Bishop Pablo Galimberti of the Diocese of Salto told McClatchy that the Catholic Church had "serious objection to this law."

"We believe the adoption law we had so far is the right one, because it respects the idea that a child must be adopted according to the natural law, that indicates that a marriage between a man and a woman offers the best conditions to raise a child."

The bill was approved 17-6, with most of its support coming from legislators of the ruling leftist Frente Amplio coalition, which has a majority in Congress, and from two of the three senators of the opposition Partido Colorado. The measure passed the lower house in August and is expected to be signed into law soon.

"Whether the couple is gay or not should not be a matter of consideration," said ruling party Sen. Margarita Percovich, who sponsored the bill. "What matters is if the family is able to educate and stimulate the child to grow as a fulfilled human being."

Although Uruguay is a strongly secular country, it isn't clear if most Uruguayans approve of the idea.

In 2008, when the Uruguayan Senate passed an earlier version of the bill, a poll by the local consulting firm Interconsult found that 49 percent of Uruguayans were against same-sex adoption, while 35 percent were in favor and 16 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

"Compared to a 2005 poll, the opposition to the measure fell drastically from 72 percent of Uruguayans against same-sex adoption to 49 percent against it," said Juan Carlos Doyenart, social analyst and director of Interconsult.

Doyenart said that although nearly 60 percent of Uruguayans say they're Catholic, the church doesn't exert as much influence as in other countries in Latin America.

"Polls have told us that Uruguayans are a lot less conservative than we think on subjects like this," he said. However, he recognized that same-sex adoption divides opinions more than other social issues.

This is one of the most recent measures backed by the Frente Amplio government that grants equal rights to gays. In May 2009, a decree signed by president Tabare Vazquez ended a ban on gays in the military. And in 2008, civil unions for same-sex couples were legalized.

The adoption legislation allows couples in legalized civil unions to adopt regardless of their sexual orientation.

Mauricio Coitino, spokesman of the gay rights Uruguayan organization Colectivo Ovejas Negras, said they don't have any numbers on gay couples already caring for children, but he pointed to one of the most vocal couples on this matter, Daniel Melo and Walter Martinez.

"We are a very normal family and we give our children all of our love," Melo said in his home in the city of Maldonado.

He was given legal custody of four children under different circumstances because their parents didn't have the means to care for them, he said. One of them, an infant whose mother was a drug addict, died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Melo recalled that he and Martinez found Franco Gonzalez, now 13, when he was 2 years old and was sleeping under a piece of cardboard on the street. He was the first one to join the family.

"We went to look for his mother, who worked in a brothel, and she gave me the custody of Franco. His dad was killed in jail three years ago," Melo said.

While Melo told the story, his son played in the living room with his 2-year-old sister, Maria Pia Melo.

"There are no secrets between us. They all know where they came from and they are in constant contact with their biological family," he said.

Melo and Martinez were one of the first gay couples in Uruguay to legalize their union in 2008. Now they plan to adopt their three children.

"I wouldn't change my parents for anything," said Gonzalez, a shy but mild-mannered adolescent.

(Narancio is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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