MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Lawmakers in taboo-breaking Uruguay voted to legalize gay marriage late Tuesday night, approving a single law governing marriage for heterosexuals and homosexuals.
The proposal now goes to the Senate, where the ruling coalition has enough votes for passage. President Jose Mujica plans to sign it into law early next year.
The proposal, which passed the lower house of Congress by a wide margin Tuesday, would also let all couples, gay or straight, decide whose surname goes first when they name their children.
That breaks with a tradition that has held for centuries across Latin America, where in nearly every country, laws require people to give their children two last names, and the father's comes first.
"It's an issue that will generate confusion in a society that has forever taken the father's name. But these changes in society have to be accepted," said Deputy Anibal Gloodtdofsky of the right-wing Colorado Party, who told The Associated Press he plans to join the ruling Broad Front coalition and vote in favor on Tuesday.
The "Marriage Equality Law" also would replace Uruguay's 1912 divorce law, which gave only women, and not their husbands, the right to renounce marriage vows without cause. In the early 20th Century, Uruguay's lawmakers saw this as an equalizer, since men at the time held all the economic and social power in a marriage, historian Gerardo Caetano said.
"A hundred years later, with all the changes that have occurred in Uruguayan society, this argument has fallen of its own accord," Caetano said Tuesday. "It's absolutely logical now that divorces can happen if either party wants it. And I really think it won't have much of an impact."
The projected law's co-sponsor, Broad Front deputy Anibal Pereyra, said Uruguay's civil code needs to be updated so that all the rights and responsibilities apply to anyone who wants to marry, straight or gay.
Uruguay became the first Latin American country to legalize abortion this year, and its Congress is debating a plan to put the government in charge of marijuana sales as a way to attack illegal marijuana traffickers.
The new proposal would make Uruguay the second nation in Latin America and the 12th in the world to legalize gay marriage, after The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark.
The bill also would clarify rules for adoption and in-vitro fertilization, and eliminate the words "marido y mujer" (husband and woman) in marriage contracts, refering instead to the gender neutral "contrayentes" (contracting parties).
The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the proposal, but the church has little political influence in secular Uruguay.
Judging from the congressional debate so far, giving gays and lesbians all the same rights and responsibilities of married straight couples seems to have been the easy part for most lawmakers. The naming change seemed to cause the most controversy as the measure came through legislative committees.