Lawmakers in taboo-breaking Uruguay voted to legalize gay marriage late on Tuesday night, approving a single law governing marriage for heterosexuals and homosexuals.
The proposal now goes to the senate, where the ruling coalition has enough votes for passage. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica plans to sign it into law early next year.
The proposal, which passed the lower house of congress by a wide margin on Tuesday, would also let all couples, gay or straight, decide whose surname goes first when they name their children.
That breaks with a tradition that has held for centuries across Latin America, where in nearly every country, laws require people to give their children two last names, and the father’s comes first.
“It’s an issue that will generate confusion in a society that has forever taken the father’s name, but these changes in society have to be accepted,” Deputy Anibal Gloodtdofsky of the right-wing Colorado Party said.
The “Marriage Equality Law” would also replace Uruguay’s 1912 divorce law, which gave only women, and not their husbands, the right to renounce marriage vows without cause.
In the early 20th century, Uruguay’s lawmakers saw this as an equalizer, since men at the time held all the economic and social power in a marriage, historian Gerardo Caetano said.
“A hundred years later, with all the changes that have occurred in Uruguayan society, this argument has fallen of its own accord,” Caetano said on Tuesday.
Uruguay became the first Latin American country to legalize abortion this year. Congress is also debating a plan to put the government in charge of marijuana sales as a way to attack illegal marijuana traffickers.
The new proposal would make Uruguay the second nation in Latin America — after Argentina — and the 12th in the world to legalize gay marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark.
The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the proposal, but the church has little political influence in secular Uruguay.
Judging from the congressional debate so far, giving gays and lesbians the same rights and responsibilities as married straight couples seems to have been the easy part for most lawmakers. The child-naming change seemed to cause the most controversy as the measure came through legislative committees.
In the end, legislators proposed to let couples choose which surname comes first for their children, and if they can’t decide, the proposed law says a sorteo, such as the flip of a coin, in the civil registry office should decide the issue.
While Uruguayans seem broadly in favor of legalizing gay marriage, the child-naming issue has led to confusion.
“I really can’t understand the point of letting heterosexual couples choose the order of their surnames. In reality, I think it’s for political correctness, and the price is to lose information: Today when someone is presented, we know clearly who the father is and who the mother is. Not so in the future,” office worker Daniel Alvarez said.