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Guatemala Moves to Ban Same-Sex Marriage, Increase Abortion Penalties

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei

The nation did not allow same-sex marriage anyway, but supporters of new legislation said it guards against "practices ... incongruous with Christian morality."

Guatemala's Congress passed legislation Tuesday banning same-sex marriage, prohibiting discussion of sexual diversity in schools, and providing up to 10 years in prison for women who have abortions.

The bill, which President Alejandro Giammattei is expected to sign into law, would give Guatemala some of the most repressive regulations on these matters in Latin America.

The legislation, called the Protection of Life and Family bill, passed by a vote of 101 to eight, with 51 members of Congress absent, the Associated Press reports.

Guatemala did not allow same-sex marriage anyway, but supporters of the bill said it needed to be passed because "minority groups in society propose ways of thinking and practices that are incongruous with Christian morality," the AP notes.

And similar to the "don't say gay" bills seen in Florida and other U.S. states, it would bar schools from teaching about subjects that could "deviate [a child's] identity according to their birth gender," as the legislation puts it. They also cannot teach that same-sex relations are normal.

Abortion was already illegal in Guatemala for any reason except to save the life of the mother, with a penalty of up to three years in prison for violation, but this bill will increase the maximum sentence to 10 years, according to the AP and The New York Times. (A Reuters report gives a figure of 25 years, but that appears to be inaccurate.) It also provides for a sentence of up to 12 years for abortion providers.

Civil rights groups decried the legislation. "This is the most regressive and wholesale attack on the rights of women and LGBT people that has been passed by a national legislature in Latin America in at least the last 10 years," Cristian Gonzalez Cabrera, a Human Rights Watch researcher, told the Times. "Even more women will be forced to put their health and lives at risk."

Some other Central American countries, including as Honduras and El Savador, have some protections for LGBTQ+ people, such as hate-crimes laws, but "Guatemala has none," he noted. Those nations do have strong anti-abortion laws, but some other countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, have liberalized their abortion regulations.

Some political commentators said Giammattei is likely trying to boost his right-wing support at a time when he's being investigated for allegedly accepting bribes. His attorney general also has ordered the arrests of prosecutors and at least one judge because of their opposition to the national government.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a statement denouncing the "brazen attacks on Guatemala's justice system through politically motivated arrests and detentions of current and former public servants fighting corruption."

Giammattei is "reaching out and trying to amplify his base when he is increasingly weak and isolated, and increasingly in confrontation with the Biden administration," Eric Olson, an expert on Central America at the Seattle International Foundation, told the Times. "This also helps his relationship with a network of conservative evangelical congressmen in the United States."

One of them, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, sent recorded remarks that were broadcast during Giammattei's Wednesday rally celebrating Guatemala as the "pro-life capital" of Latin America. He thanked the president "for his dedicated efforts to defend the lives of unborn children." Staffers from the Family Research Council, a U.S. anti-LGBTQ+, anti-abortion group, attended the event.

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