Nearly thirty years ago, when I married my Argentine wife in the city of Olavarría, officials of the local Registro Civil (Civil Registry) were uncertain whether they could even perform the ceremony - in their memory, at least, no foreigner had ever been married in this mid-sized city in Buenos Aires province. Apparently concerned that I had no idea what I was getting into, they questioned me every step of the way - though my Spanish was pretty good even then, my accent (at the time, a hybrid of Mexican and Chilean speech that many people found amusing) may have raised a red flag.
Eventually, though, the large crowd of my wife’s relatives and friends carried the day. After a brief civil ceremony, we were a legal matrimonio (married couple), with a libreta de familia (certificate) to prove it. We did not have a church ceremony.
The idea of foreigners getting married in Argentina was unusual then, but it might become far more common after yesterday, when a close vote in the Argentine Senate finalized legislation giving gays the right to marry throughout the country. Despite fierce opposition from the Catholic and evangelical churches, and other conservative sectors, who held a huge rally outside the Congreso Nacional Tuesday evening, gay marriage supporters crossed party lines in a country where bipartisanship - or multipartisanship in a fragmented institution - is often a dirty word. It’s worth adding, though, that opposition - almost invariably on a religious basis - also crossed party lines.
In fact, the city of Buenos Aires has had a domestic partners law for some time, and city mayor Mauricio Macri - though frequently at odds with the federal government under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner - recently declined to appeal a court ruling that permitted homosexuals to marry. In pushing for the new law, the president and her husband Néstor Kirchner (whom she succeeded as president, and who is now a legislator) were taking on some of their most determined opposition, in a polarized political environment where confrontation is the norm. On one level, The Economist views the measure as an opportunistic power grab on the part of the presidential couple, to unite their base.
Though Buenos Aires has become a major destination for gay travelers over the past decade-plus, one might expect an even greater influx with yesterday’s news, which is getting publicity all around the globe. Plenty of businesses cater to a gay clientele, such as San Telmo’s Pride Café, many more market themselves as gay-friendly, and most others simply don't care one way or the other. They can tango together at La Marshall, a gay milonga. Among the most gay-friendly areas are San Telmo and Palermo, which set the standards for the city’s vigorous nightlife.
Some accommodations openly appeal to gay visitors, such as San Telmo’s Lugar Gay, near the famous Plaza Dorrego flea market, and Villa Crespo’s Bayres B&B, just across Avenida Córdoba from Palermo. The most stylish, though, is Monserrat’s contemporary Axel Hotel (whose garden pool is pictured above this paragraph, with a room below), part of a “hetero-friendly” chain with affiliates in Barcelona and Berlin (somewhat misleadingly, the Axel claims to be in San Telmo, whose limit is two blocks south).
While gay visitors from overseas might well enjoy their honeymoon here, though, they shouldn’t expect to get married any time soon: according to an Associated Press article, “Gays and lesbians who have already found Buenos Aires to be a welcoming place will likely rush to the altar, but same-sex couples from other countries will need to live in Argentina before becoming eligible, and the necessary residency documents can take months to obtain.”
Actually, they’re not likely to rush to the altar, in the most literal sense of the phrase - the churches are gay marriage’s most vigorous opponents but, at least, the civil ceremony is what really counts. Still, if your boyfriend or girlfriend is an Argentine citizen or resident, you may - like me nearly three decades ago - be in luck. According to Dan Perlman, who runs the Casa SaltShaker restaurant out of his Recoleta apartment, “My understanding is that one of the two parties has to be either a citizen or permanent resident, but the other can be a foreigner. They don't want gay couples just flooding in here to get married from other countries, as has happened in Canada.”
Even those ineligible for the hard-backed libreta de familia granted us nearly three decades ago can get a consolation prize: I am offering free copies of the current edition of Moon Buenos Aires for the first two readers who can name the only other Spanish-speaking country that permits same-sex marriage. Please send all entries to the address in the header above; do not comment on this page.