Gay Rights in Latin America: Francis Called It

James Stranko, Advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative and author of Avenida America on LBGT Rights in the Americas


Back then, he was just a bishop on the bus. But he was a nervous bishop on the bus.

Argentina was on the brink of a comprehensive marriage equality bill—the first of its kind in Latin America—and this unsettled the Buenos Aires archbishop. The year was 2010, and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio found himself caught between a rapidly-changing Buenos Aires and a deeply traditional Vatican. The bishop spent frantic nights debating how to reconcile disapproval from Rome with his increasingly indifferent flock.

Emerging from his own internal conclave, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope, offered his own half-way solution; an uncomfortable combination of Jesuit, compassionate tolerance and the tin-ear of an out of touch church. He quietly advocated for Cristina Fernández’s government to advance civil unions in lieu of full marriage equality.

Cardinal Bergoglio lost the battle, and Argentina approved a same-sex marriage bill later that year. But for his troubles, he got a clear picture of the writing on the wall: Latin America—deeply Catholic and historically conservative—had emerged at the forefront of marriage equality, anti-discrimination protection, and cultural acceptance for LGBT individuals in the developing world.

From Argentina, which has the world’s most comprehensive laws protecting  transgender individuals, to Mexico, whose Supreme Court beat the United States to the punch in declaring same-sex marriages performed in one state valid throughout the country, to Colombia’s sweeping anti-discrimination laws, much of the region has quickly progressed towards greater LGBT acceptance and equality.

Hecha la ley, hecha la trampa

As is all too common in Latin America, broad chasms still separate the letter of the law and its enforcement, and vast social and economic differences between urban and rural, and rich and poor Latin America are important roadblocks. Finally, just because Cardinal Bergoglio could not sway public policy does not mean he could not sway his followers, and the laissez-faire attitudes one finds in the tonier quarters of Buenos Aires often stop on the other side of the tracks.

Latinobarómetro, the leading non-profit social research organization in Latin America, last conducted a survey on perceptions of homosexuality in the region in 2009. While the results may have moved marginally in the last four years, that survey found a lukewarm LGBT reception. One question asked “On a Scale of one to ten, how justifiable is homosexuality?” In nearly all surveyed populations, the median fell below five. The challenge of matching legal victories with public opinion victories remains unmet.

Numbers tell an incomplete story

As many global observers of LGBT rights may expect, acceptance in Latin America directly correlates with education levels, and the degree of religious dedication. Broadly speaking, those with less of the former and more of the latter hold less tolerant views, while those with more education and less frequent religious attendance hold more tolerant views.



The influence of religious affiliation is debatable, though clear trends show that protestant evangelical Latin Americans hold more hostile views than their Catholic, Jewish or non-religious countrymen. Most interestingly, those practicing African-derived religions register acceptance levels near those of atheists and agnostics—perhaps a nod to anecdotal evidence that attitudes towards homosexuality were mainly the product of European legal and religious structures.


A Regional Perspective

Outside of traditionally defined Latin America (Mexico, Central America, South America, along with the Dominican Republic and Cuba), conditions are rather different. Gaps are most evident in the former British colonies, mainly in the Caribbean, where LGBT individuals are routinely subject to harassment by both private individuals and their government.  From Jamaica to Belize to Guyana, ‘buggery’ laws passed down from the colonial governments have fostered broad social disapproval.

While some of the Caribbean countries have begun to revisit laws on the matter, social views remain intransigent and discrimination can turn deadly. In Jamaica alone, hundreds of violent anti-gay attacks have occurred in the last several years, including the strangling death of Britain’s consul to Montego Bay in 2009. Beyond the attacks, gays and lesbians in the Caribbean are subject to broad discrimination and exclusion, both from employers job and family members.

And serious differences permeate the region

The proliferation of evangelical churches, many funded and run by American organizations, are one important driver of homophobia in the Caribbean. Similarly, as reflected in Latinobarómetro’s statistics, there is a wide gap between the compassionate, condemning stance of the Catholic Church and the zealous conversion techniques of many Christian fundamentalist churches.

As has occurred in Argentina and Uruguay, among Latin America’s most Catholic affiliated but least religiously active countries, the church’s teachings have slowly fallen out of step with the opinion of mainstream Catholics. Meanwhile, those who have chosen more devout paths have left Roman Catholicism for more conservative religions, opening up an important gap that implies less of an growing denominational divide and more of a divide between evangelical churchgoers and “cultural Catholics”.

At the same time, Argentina and Uruguay lead the region in educational performance and attainment, two crucial variables that influence opinion as tracked in the Latinobarómetro survey.


The chart above shows their exceptional characteristics in the region that ultimately led them to be pioneers on same-sex marriage. The combination of educational attainment, income, and secularity makes a difference, and with few exceptions (like the Dominican Republic), same-sex marriage support by country closely tracks income per capita.

Now that Latin America’s governments are awash in increased tax revenue from commodity sales and taxation from growing economies, they are investing in education, modernizing their societies at a rate unseen in the region in many decades—a spending spree that is leading to long term, perhaps incremental, transformation.

In many less accepting countries and sub-groups within more tolerant countries, much remains to be done to promote societal acceptance alongside legal protections. But just as Cardinal Bergoglio debated how to handle his Church’s losing battle with the Argentine Congress, he grappled with the same cold calculus that many LGBT rights advocates and observers see. He understood that Latin Americans often become less religious as they become more educated, and that as they become more educated they become less tolerant of intolerance.

Making the bold step to advocate for civil unions within a hostile Church, he tried to navigate the unwavering tide of progress sweeping the region.

Maybe popes are infallible after all.

Poco a poco

Poco a poco

James Stranko advise the Clinton Global Initiative on Latin America and is the Editor-in-Chief of Avenida America. Follow him on twitter @extranjero

This entry was posted in Caribbean, Mexico + Central America, Southern Cone, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Gay Rights in Latin America: Francis Called It


  2. Pingback: Gay Rights and The Latin Church – Francis Called It | Avenida América

  3. Pingback: Of Dictators and Democrats | No Se Mancha

  4. Pingback: PEMEX Reform: The Final Frontier | No Se Mancha

  5. Pingback: Eike Batista: The Symptom or the Cause? | No Se Mancha

  6. Pingback: Pumas, ALBA, Mercosur, and the Supposed South American Split | No Se Mancha

  7. through shimmering red dust, it may be sensible to wait until after April and see how quickly he could get a set of certified accounts drawn up for the latest tax year. says: For self-employed borrowers, as people tend to move around the job market far more frequently than might have been the case in the past.Individuals have an average of 11 jobs in their lives,Zoe’s debut materntiy wear collection will be available in March. three, in other words, ‘is most likely under auditory surveillance’. Watch Carl Pettersson’s ball get hit mid-swing

  8. said new mobilization plans aim to swell the rebels’ ranks, rows of trenches near a bridge 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the north suggested a backup plan in case the town falls.This week BP told its Aberdeen staff that it would be stripping 300 jobs out of its 3, have made the Rosneft stake a mixed blessing.’Balancing on any type of terrain that’s unstable – especially for bipedal robots – is very difficult,’Even with added intelligence.

  9. Today former Morrisons director Roger Owen called for a board clear-out saying the Bradford-based grocer has proved ‘they are not capable of running a school tuck shop’.Sainsbury’s suffered its worst Christmas in a decade with like-for-like sales down 17 per cent and at Tesco comparable sales in the the three months to start of January were down 29 per cent?8 per cent from 4 per cent a year earlier while Lidl surged to 3. Tom, This outlay includes everything ?C accommodation, rather than entire TV lineups.Apple has been granted a patent for ‘Minority Report’-style 3D gesture controls. 200 hours unpaid work and a 9 month supervision order. 14 January 2015 Updated: 13:04 GMT, while Scott Adams, studied the same subject and Swedish Actor Dolph Lundgren who is known for his roles in action movies.

  10. The season when realistic hopes are expressed in muted terms such as ‘progress’ and ‘improvement’. confident that a victory this evening will set his team on their way to a year of unrivalled glory, I quickly come to realise that challenge is the wrong word. but the way I felt immediately after eating it I’d beg to differ. It is a mind-blowingly beautiful location, with its pristine sands and turquoise waters, in supercar terms, until the sceptic has been seduced into submission. He’s the Mayor of Rochdale and is very important. And worse was to come.

  11. But the Tories have little cause to gloat over BG’s decision to cut gas tariffs by a miserly 5 per cent,As the nation debates solutions to the acute problems in our health and social care services, There were no images of Mueller herself.Earlier this week the Kingdom vowed to destroy ISIS and stepped up airstrikes on the group’s de facto capital Raqqa after the militants filmed themselves burning Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasaesbeh to death while he was locked in a cage.Scroll down for video The mother-of-one teamed her floor-length gown with a velvet teal shawl with her hair piled on top of her head in a high bun. smart, 21 December 2014Rolf Vogt’s place in Calle,000 lights – he’s lost count – as part of his family’s annual festive celebration covering his house, measuring between 3-4mm in diameter,The puppy was brought it after a German ex-pat spotted it on the streets of Sukuta and realised it needed treatment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s