Argentina has, at best, medium rather than high levels
Furthermore, on a number of measures, Argentina is
not more secular than its peers in Latin America. While
the differences bet ween Argentina and Brazil are significant, they are not as large between Argentina and Chile,
Mexico, Colombia, and Peru.
To explain why Argentina is so far ahead of the curve,
we need to go beyond conventional explanations.
Here are six factors that explain Argentina’s success.
First, it’s not just secular values but also the role of
the church in Argentina. Argentine Catholics don’t go
to church as much as people elsewhere in Latin America, and there are a small number of evangelicals. Much
has been said about the fact that a Catholic country such
as Argentina has approved gay marriage. This is a point
worth making, because the Catholic Church, since 2007,
especially under the present pope, has become more obsessed with blocking same-sex marriage.
In Argentina, even though the church actually
launched a crusade against the marriage bill, church attendance is low—approximately 22 percent of the population attends church services weekly. The Evangelical
population is tiny (only 9 percent, including Protestants,
Lutherans and Methodists).
Low church attendance and the low numbers of Evangelicals help predict pro-LGBT legislation because it reveals the extent of societal secularism, as well as the
mobilizational weakness of the churches. Argentina is
distinctive on both counts.
Second, separation of church and party matters more
than the separation of church and state. Argentina has
not had a strong confessional party for the past 100
years. There is no strong Christian Democratic party, as
in Chile and Venezuela. No party has the kind of strong
connections with Opus Dei that characterizes the ruling parties in Colombia and Mexico. There is no party
with strong connections with evangelical groups, similar to the ties of the contemporary Republicans in the
U.S. (and arguably, the Labor Party in Brazil and most
parties in Central America and the Anglo-Caribbean).
This is one reason why so many legislators in Argentina, from all parties, risked voting against the pulpit.
Third, transnational legalism is the most important
form of globalization. Much has been written about
JAVIER CORRALES LGBT Rights in the Americas
how globalization helps to promote LGBT rights. We
saw that the Argentina case defies what the theory says
about globalization, when measured in economic terms.
But Argentina also illustrates a type of globalization that
is especially helpful, and that, incidentally, is scarce in
the U.S.: transnational legalism.
This term refers to the ease with which a country’s
legal system borrows from international cases to set legal precedents domestically. While most countries in
Latin America have a strong tradition of transnational
legalism, Argentina is a regional champion. It is both an
avid importer of international norms (since 1994, most
international human rights treaties have had constitutional status) and also a voluminous exporter of legal
norms, playing active roles in helping international organizations and foreign countries bolster their human
rights norms and helping countries establish truth commissions. Argentina’s pro-LGBT forces were quite comfortable emulating norms from abroad, even borrowing
verbatim wording and arguments from actors fighting
elsewhere to approve LGBT rights.
Fourth, the domestic legal landscape is as important a
factor as global influence. Argentina’s pro-LGBT groups
did not just draw from abroad. They also drew from domestic sources.
The agenda of the LGBT movement was cast as part
of the country’s broader agenda on women’s reproductive rights, gender equality, health, and sexuality. These
issues have been part of Argentina’s legislative agenda
for several decades. Furthermore, a strategy was developed by different LGBT organizations, particularly the
Federación Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y
Trans (Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans), to encourage gay couples to request marriage licenses, get an official refusal and then challenge
the decision on constitutional grounds.
This strategy proved effective. Several judges responded by authorizing marriages, also on constitutional grounds. In less than a year, a dozen gay couples
were married that way, even before the new law came
into being. The issue was framed as a question of equality before the law—the domestic law.
In contrast, the Catholic Church almost took pride in
presenting itself as outside the law. Its discourse against
LGBT folks became so aggressive and discriminatory that
even those who were unsure about the morality of the
bill were appalled by the church’s position.
Whereas the traditional left in Latin America has
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012