Uruguay Takes Another Step Forward for GLBTs With Gender Change Law

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Sep 23, 2009

The tiny South American nation of Uruguay continues to outpace America in the arena of GLBT equality: after allowing gays to serve in the military and preparing the way for family equality in the realm of adoptions for same-sex parents, Uruguay is now on the way to approving a law that respects each individual's gender identity.

Though most people identify with their anatomical gender, there are some who feel that their true selves are trapped in bodies of the wrong sex.

Such transgendered individuals have become more visible in recent years, but in the United States they, like gays and lesbians, are afforded only limited rights and protections relevant to their status as sexual minorities. To date, there are no federal protections in place for transgendered citizens, just as not federal statutes offer protection to gays and lesbians.

In Uruguay, however, the rate of social progress is somewhat more accelerated by comparison. While marriage equality remains a hot-button political issue here, a "cohabitation union law" that took effect at the start of last year in Uruguay provides civil unions for commonlaw spouses of mixed genders or of the same gender, with the same legal rights and protections as those provided to married heterosexuals.

Last May, the country lifted a ban on military service by gays and lesbians--a move that American President Barack Obama has publicly supported but done little to advance in the United States.

And earlier this month, Uruguayan lawmakers approved legislation that will allow children in need of stable, loving homes to be placed with same-sex prospective parents.

The new measure has been passed by the Chamber of Deputies (the rough equivalent of Congress), and declares that each individual has the right to determine his or her gender, anatomy notwithstanding.

Religious and social conservatives in other countries have labeled the new law "anti-family."

That was the characterization used by anti-gay religious Web site LifeSiteNews in a Sept. 22 article on the new law, although the article did not specify how the measure would negatively impact families.

The LifeSiteNews item noted that the bill states that "everyone has the right to the free development of his personality regarding his own gender identity, independently of his biological, genetic, anatomic, morphologic, hormonal, assigned, or other sex."

The bill also sets out guidelines for those wishing to be legally recognized as the gender opposite that of their anatomy, with a two-year-long process defined for those who do not opt for sex reassignment surgery.

The LifeSiteNews article said that in cases where sex assignment surgery is undertaken--the article referred to the procedure as the "patient [being] mutilated to resemble the opposite sex"--that two-year process will be waived.

The article noted that although gay and lesbian Uruguayans may enter into civil unions, their families are not offered marriage equality; that restriction extends to individuals who change their legal genders. Even once the legal change has been made, marriages to others of the same biological gender will not be permitted.

The current version of the bill also contains language requiring Uruguayans to be at least 18 years of age before pursuing a legal change of gender, the article said.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which earlier approved other GLBT equality measures. If the bill passes the Senate, as it is expected to, it will likely be approved by Uruguay's President, Tabaré Vázquez, whose party has supported other GLBT equality laws.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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