Argentina gay marriage row serves broader government aim

Thu Jul 8, 2010 4:42pm EDT
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By Hilary Burke

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina's government is fighting to get a gay marriage bill through Congress to shore up its leftist credentials ahead of a 2011 vote and to steal the limelight from opposition-led proposals.

The Senate is due to vote next week on gay marriage, which would give homosexual couples the right to adopt children. If the measure passes, Argentina would be one of just a handful of countries to have such a law.

But even if opponents and religious groups succeed in blocking the bill, the debate has allowed the government to divert attention from popular opposition proposals that could become a major headache for President Cristina Fernandez, such as a steep hike in pension payments.

"This allows the government to always be center stage," said Roberto Bacman, a sociologist and pollster. "They want to show they are the true center-left, forcing the opposition to move to the right in the upcoming national election."

Fernandez and her husband and predecessor, former President Nestor Kirchner, have depicted gay marriage as a matter of human rights, an issue dear to them that has helped win support from some middle-class voters and broaden their base beyond the urban poor.

Kirchner, a congressman now and head of the Peronist Party's ruling faction, told reporters on Thursday: "I have an absolutely clear conscience, having voted in favor of equal marriage rights."

The couple's push for gay marriage has cut across party lines and helps them position themselves as the most viable leftist option ahead of an October 2011 election, in which Kirchner is expected to run for president after serving from 2003 to 2007.