Brazil Recognizes Legal Rights of Same-Sex Couples, Defies Church

Brazil has never been a country that is afraid of defiance. Remember when they broke Merck’s patent on the AIDS drug efivarenz in 2007 in favor of a much cheaper, generic kind, in essence giving the middle finger to pharma giants?

Now, in a watershed moment for gay rights activists, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled that the legal rights of same-sex couples must be recognized, just as those of heterosexual couples are when it comes to alimony, retirement benefits, and inheritances, among others —all of which has drawn condemnation from the Roman Catholic Church.

Brazil has the highest number of Catholics in the world. Portuguese explorers brought the religion over in the 1500s and today, something like 85 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic, though more evangelical religions have gained popularity in recent years, in addition to Afro-Brazilian practices like Candomblé.

"This is a historic moment for all Brazilians, not just homosexuals. This judgment will change everything for us in society – and for the better," said Marcelo Cerqueira of the gay rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia. "Gays, lesbians and transsexuals will be recognized as being more human. We'll be more accepted by having our rights honored."

The high court’s decision sets a precedent that must be honored by all other public institutions. Brazil is following the lead of progressive places in the region like Argentina and Mexico City (where same-sex marriage is legal). As a country, Mexico allows same-sex couples to adopt. Other countries in the region, including Colombia and Uruguay, also recognize some rights of homosexual couples, but have stopped short of legalizing gay marriage.

Though this is a critical turning point for Brazil’s gay community, anti-gay violence in the country continues to be a massive problem. In 2010 alone, 260 gays were murdered, up 113 percent from five years ago.

Still, after having homophobic slurs of bicha! (the Brazilian equivalent of "faggot!") chanted at him during volleyball games, star player Michael dos Santos of the team Volei Futuro recently came out via the GloboEsporte website: "I am gay,” he declared. “Everyone here knows it."

And according to the Associated Press, one of Brazil’s beloved soap operas will feature its first televised gay kiss this month.