Colombia's conservatives derail gay rights bill

BY admin

June 21 2007 12:00 AM ET

In Colombia a
landmark gay rights bill was derailed at the last minute by
a bloc of conservative senators, but supporters vowed
Wednesday to revive the legislation.

The bill, which
had been endorsed by conservative president Alvaro Uribe,
would have made Colombia the first nation in Latin America
to grant gay couples in long-term relationships the
same rights to health insurance, inheritance, and
social security as heterosexual couples,

Slightly
different versions of the bill had been approved by
Colombia's senate and house of representatives, and
Tuesday's vote on the final, reconciled version was
expected to be routine.

But Sen. Manuel
Virguez Piraquive, from a small party closely linked to
an evangelical Colombian church, called for an unusual floor
vote on the bill.

Other
conservative lawmakers then broke ranks with the pro-Uribe
faction backing the bill, and it was defeated
34–29 in the 102-member senate. Many of the
bill's supporters were absent.

The call for an
individual votes was unusual, and some said it was
unprecedented. Parties usually vote as blocs on the final,
reconciled versions of bills in Colombia's
legislature.

Sen. Armando
Benedetti, a sponsor of the bill, vowed to restart the
legislative process when Congress reconvenes on July 20, and
he criticized Uribe for not defending the initiative
more forcefully.

''He said he
supported the bill during his presidential campaign, but
since then he's been silent,'' Benedetti said.

Although states
and cities have passed laws allowing gay couples to share
assets, no other country in the overwhelmingly Roman
Catholic region has done so at a national level.

Colombia's
constitutional court recognized similar rights to shared
property and inheritance in February, but the decision did
not mention health insurance or social security.

While
homosexuality is still taboo in much of Latin America, there
has been increasing acceptance in many areas. Mexico
City and the Mexican state of Coahuila recently joined
the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires and the southern
Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul in legalizing
same-sex civil unions.

Opponents of the
measure and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church
said they feared the Colombian law would open the way to
same-sex marriage and adoption by gays. (Joshua
Goodman, AP)

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