Latin America Expects First Marriage Equality Votes Under New Pope

    Key votes on same-sex couples' marriage rights are scheduled within days in Uruguay and Colombia. These will be the first tests for marriage equality since Pope Francis became the first pontiff from Latin America.

    The legislatures of Uruguay and Colombia will both take up marriage equality bills in the coming weeks, posing the first tests on the issue since Pope Francis became the first pontiff from Latin America.

    The marriage bill in Uruguay is widely expected to pass when the country's senate votes on April 2. The legislation is backed by the ruling party, and it was passed overwhelmingly by the house of deputies in December.

    With approval in sight and a substantial percentage of Uruguayans in favor of the law, the rhetoric of the country's Catholic hierarchy is growing increasingly strident. They are even invoking the apocalyptic language that Pope Francis famously used when he fought Argentina's Equal Marriage Law in 2010 when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

    Many observers of Argentina believe his language marginalized the church in the eyes of Argentina's overwhelmingly secular public. But Monsignor Jaime Fuentes, Bishop of Minas, quoted Bergoglio's controversial letter in a statement published on the Uruguayan church's official website on March 27:

    "Let's not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God's plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that's just it's form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God."

    Fuentes, who previously seemed to open the door to backing civil unions, further warned that this bill was part of a "war against the family" that included recent legalization of abortion.

    "The government approved the murder of children in their mothers' wombs; now, it is changing the nature of marriage. Soon after will come laws in favor of euthanasia and also eugenics, of course... Is this the social progress that Uruguayans want?"

    Fuentes's statement and those of other top bishops have gotten much attention in the Uruguayan press, since religious leaders are leading opposition to a bill that seems destined to pass.

    In Colombia, where the marriage bill could very well fail to pass even a single chamber of the country's congress, the church has kept a lower profile. Polling also shows 68 percent of Colombians are opposed to same-sex couples' marriage rights.

    The Colombian senate will take up the bill on April 10, but the bill's sponsor, Senator Armando Benedetti, has long been pessimistic about its chances in the house of deputies.

    Last week, his fight with the other chamber went public when he accused the president of the house of deputies, Augusto Posada, of being "homophobic" for not scheduling a vote on the bill.

    The fight in the legislature is most likely a prelude to one that will return to the country's courts. Colombia's high court ordered the legislature to pass a bill giving same-sex couples the same protections as heterosexual couples by June 20, 2013, or it would do so automatically. But the court did not use the word "marriage" in its opinion, setting the stage for more lawsuits.

    "The next June 20th, we will go to the notaries and judges to ask for the right to marry," said Mauricio Albarracín, a lawyer with the LGBT advocacy group Colombia Diversa who worked on the 2011 lawsuit. "If [it is] denied, we will start the litigation again."

    J. Lester Feder is a BuzzFeed contributor and 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.