Peru: Marriage Equality Debate Shapes Presidential Election

16 Mar 2011

LIMA--Debate over civil unions for gays has divided Peru's socially conservative electorate ahead of next month's presidential vote, drawing particularly fierce opposition from the Catholic church.

The issue took center stage on the campaign after presidential front-runner Alejandro Toledo declared that if elected he would move to change current law to allow spousal rights for homosexuals.

Polls show that former president Toledo is leading the field of 11 contenders which also includes Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, and Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda.

The winner will succeed current President Alan Garcia, who is not running for re-election, in July.

Fujimori and another presidential contender, Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros, have said they favor civil unions for Peruvian gays.

The issue pits the country's burgeoning gay rights community against the established Catholic church hierarchy, although among the political establishment, a relative consensus has emerged to legalize civil unions.

The debate is roiling socially conservative Peru where more than 80 percent of the people are Catholics, in large part because the politicians are so far out ahead of the voters.

Nearly 70 percent of Peruvians said in a poll last month that they are opposed to gay civil unions, while some 74.4 percent said they are against gay marriage.

Especially outspoken opposition has come from Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, the archbishop of Lima and an active figure in Latin America's arch-conservative Opus Dei movement.

Cipriani said that candidates' efforts to change Peru's legal code are overridden by what he says are the laws of God and Nature.

Gays rights groups categorically reject the church's position.

The "Movimiento Homosexual de Lima" (Homosexual Movement of Lima, MHOL) has organized massive protests in front of the Lima cathedral as it presses its campaign "on behalf of love and tolerance."

The demonstrations consist of a huge "Kiss-In" in which crowds of same-sex couples take part in a massive lip-lock with their significant others in front of the cathedral.

The MHOL said the public act is meant to be symbolic, as gay Peruvians claim their right to express their love to their sex partners and insist on the same civil protections and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual partners.


Via The China Post