Glasses clinked and confetti flew on Friday as two Argentines became the first gay couple in Latin America to take advantage of a new law legalizing same-sex civil unions. "Every gay, lesbian, transvestite, and transsexual in Argentina has always fantasized about this moment," said Marcelo Suntheim, 35, as he was jostled by journalists, well-wishers, and onlookers outside the city's civil registry. "Because of all the people who fought for this who are not here to see it, this is a very emotional moment," said Marcelo's partner, Cesar Cigliutti, 45, referring to fellow gay activists who have died of AIDS complications. Theirs was the first ceremony since the Buenos Aires legislature granted legal status last year to gay couples in a city of 3 million people that is known as one of the most progressive in deeply Roman Catholic South America. The law has been hailed as a first in Latin America. Couples can now share insurance coverage and qualify as family members during hospital visits, but their union is not the same as marriage. They cannot adopt children, inherit each other's wealth, or get spousal pension benefits.
Though the law was approved last year, it did not go into effect until this week. It does not cover people who live outside the capital or allow access to federal benefits. Before year's end, the nonprofit group Argentine Homosexual Community will push for a national measure granting same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexuals who marry, said Cigliutti, the group's president. City officials expect about 150 gay couples to seal their civil unions in coming months, a spokeswoman said.