As well as examining the situation in Portugal, Bruni also surveys the state of gay marriage worldwide, identifying the ten countries that allow same-sex marriage. According to Bruni, four recent additions (South Africa, Spain, Portugal and Argentina) had been "less predictable" than a number of others, such as Canada and Sweden.
In examining why these "less predictable" countries legalized gay marriage, Bruni writes that:
People who have studied the issue note that [these countries] have something interesting and relevant in common: each spent a significant period of the late 20th century governed by a dictatorship or brutally discriminatory government, and each emerged from that determined to exhibit a modernity and concern for human rights that put the past to rest.
In should also be noted that the clerical caste of the Roman Catholic Church, in its official capacity, sided with a number of these dictatorships – most notably in Spain. The Church was definitely seen to be on the side of the oppressors.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that Bruni observes that:
Spain’s big step [of legalizing civil marriage rights for gay couples] . . . reflected the tenuousness of the Vatican’s hold on the everyday mores and behaviors in many developed democracies still spoken of as Roman Catholic. While the vast majority of Spaniards belong nominally to the church and Catholic leaders lobbied against same-sex marriage, the Spanish Parliament nonetheless approved the law. Politicians understood that most Spaniards didn’t regard Catholicism as a rigid prescription for living.
Following are excerpts from Bruni's article.
. . . With minimal international attention, Portugal — tiny, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Portugal — legalized same-sex marriage last year. Although the country is hardly seen as a Scandinavian-style bastion of social progressivism, it’s one of just 10 countries where such marriages can be performed nationwide, and in this regard it finds itself ahead of a majority of wealthier, more populous European countries, like France, Germany, Italy and Britain. In the United States, only six states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. How did that happen? And what wisdom do the answers offer frustrated supporters of same-sex marriage here and elsewhere around the globe?
With a potent case of Portugal envy, I went there and talked with advocates and politicians at the center of its same-sex-marriage campaign and with gay and lesbian couples who married after the law took effect in June 2010. All were still pleasantly stunned by what Portugal had accomplished.
It was only a little more than a decade ago that a country first legalized same-sex marriage, and that happened in precisely the kind of forward-thinking, bohemian place you’d expect: the Netherlands. About two years later, Belgium followed suit.
Then things got really interesting. The eight countries that later joined the club were a mix of largely foreseeable and less predictable additions. In the first category I’d put Canada, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. In the second: South Africa, Spain, Portugal and Argentina.
Why those four countries? People who have studied the issue note that that they have something interesting and relevant in common: each spent a significant period of the late 20th century governed by a dictatorship or brutally discriminatory government, and each emerged from that determined to exhibit a modernity and concern for human rights that put the past to rest.
“They’re countries where the commitment to democracy and equal protection under the law was denied, flouted and oppressed, and the societies have struggled to restore that,” said Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, a New York-based advocacy group, in a recent interview.
That dynamic informed Spain’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Spain’s big step also reflected the tenuousness of the Vatican’s hold on the everyday mores and behaviors in many developed democracies still spoken of as Roman Catholic. While the vast majority of Spaniards belong nominally to the church and Catholic leaders lobbied against same-sex marriage, the Spanish Parliament nonetheless approved the law. Politicians understood that most Spaniards didn’t regard Catholicism as a rigid prescription for living.
Politicians in Portugal and Argentina — two countries with their own large Catholic majorities, strong geographic or historical ties to Spain, and a palpable desire to keep pace with it — took note of the same-sex marriage legislation there. Spain set off an Iberian wave with trans-Atlantic reach: one of the countries considered most likely to approve same-sex marriage next is Uruguay, which already permits same-sex civil unions and allows gay men and lesbians to adopt.
. . . “With Catholics here there’s a sense of, ‘Do what you want, just don’t talk too much about it,’ ” said Paulo Côrte-Real, a leading gay rights advocate in Portugal. While that didn’t incline devout Catholics toward supporting same-sex marriage, it diminished their appetite for getting into a huge sustained public fight over it.
And once it became law, everyone for the most part moved on. Sócrates’s government was tripped up by economic matters, not same-sex marriage, support for which rose significantly in polls following its institution, as people saw that their society wasn’t crumbling as a result. “It was a good example of the pedagogical effect of law,” Vale de Almeida said.
In the first year of the law’s existence, 410 same-sex couples married, and some were surprised, happily, by the reaction.
They said that the state-sanctioned formalization of their partnerships impressed the people around them, especially older relatives who now had a traditional vocabulary and framework — vows, rings, cake — for understanding the relationships. Sara and Rita Martinho recalled the striking change in one of Rita’s grandfathers, who had resisted acknowledging her sexual orientation, once they were married. He merrily attended the wedding. “If there’s food involved,” Rita said, “family will come.” And he later gave them a set of espresso cups, because he’d noticed they didn’t have any.
To read Bruni's article in its entirety, click here.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality