Argentina thus replicated the path
taken by Massachusetts, where gay
marriage was approved first through
a court ruling, and then by legislative
vote against the wishes of Governor
Mitt Romney, who wanted a referendum, and avoided the California and
Florida models, which relied on popular vote to disastrous results.
A banner day: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (center) with LGB T activists after the approval of the same-sex marriage law.
never quite come to terms with globalization, always
responding to it with various forms of negativity ranging from suspicion to extreme repulsion—LGBT movements have adopted a more relaxed response: leverage
globalization. LGBT groups systematically use resources
provided by globalization and markets to enhance their
bargaining leverage. For instance, they use traditional
and new media such as the Internet to actively monitor
and adapt to local circumstances the strategies adopted
by LGB T movements elsewhere on the planet.
The key lesson, therefore, is that in addition to transnational legalism, a country needs to have a well-grounded
legal tradition of equality, liberty and human rights, as
well as a set of social movements with expertise in how
to use that tradition to its advantage.
Fifth, democracy, yes; referendum democracy, no. Perhaps the most important victory by pro-LGBT groups in
Argentina was to avoid the referenda trap. Enemies of
Argentina’s gay marriage legislation, including the Catholic Church, offered a populist compromise: submit the
issue to a popular vote.
In Latin America at the moment, the concept of participatory democracy is in vogue. But LGBT groups in
Argentina and their allies were smart to recognize the
problems with this form of populism. Submitting questions of minority rights to a majority vote is inherently a
biased process—against the minority group, naturally—
and this makes it undemocratic despite its reliance on
the popular vote. Deciding the rights of minorities by
consulting majorities is not democracy; rather, it is tyranny of the majority, or perhaps more aptly, “the violence of faction” (Federalist No. 10, 1787).
Sixth, the president presides. Ultimately, what made the law possible in
Argentina was the president’s decision
to take the risk of backing the bill. This
courageous act is the one factor that is
more ad hoc and specific to the case,
Perhaps she did this because of the Peronist tradition of confronting the church openly (while secretly
negotiating other agreements). Perhaps it was another
example of the administration’s penchant for open
confrontation. Perhaps she did it because the opposition was fragmented and likely to split even more severely than the ruling party. Perhaps she did it because
the government needed to recover lost ground among
the young and the urbanites, who had abandoned her.
Perhaps she did it out of principle.
Who knows? What matters is that the president
took the risk.
A few days after the law was approved, Fernández welcomed, for the first time ever, a host of LGBT organizations to the Pink House. That, too, was historic and gutsy.
Overcoming homophobia is not easy and, perhaps,
never fully attainable. But Argentina offers some important lessons on what it takes to move forward.
It is important to live in a democracy, of course. But
it is more important to avoid referenda democracy. It is
important to have separation of church and state, but it
is also vital to have secular citizens and secular parties.
Ultimately, legislatively approved gay marriage is
transforming the way we have thought of democracy
for the past three centuries, and it would be disingenuous to believe that this effort can occur without courage.
DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/GETT Y
Javier Corrales is professor of political science at
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012