June 15, 2007 / 2:24 PM / in 12 years

Gay rights bill passes Colombian Congress

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s Congress approved a bill late on Thursday granting same-sex couples rights similar to their straight counterparts, a move seen as the biggest advance for homosexuals in this Roman Catholic country.

The measure, supported by President Alvaro Uribe but opposed by the church, grants gay couples living together for more than two years the same social security and estate inheritance guarantees as heterosexuals in common law marriages.

“This makes Colombia a more democratic, more open place,” said activist Virgilio Barco, son of a former president by the same name.

“It marks the first time that legislation like this has passed at a national level in Latin America,” he said.

The bill had failed to get through Congress four times since 1999.

The last time it was rejected by lawmakers in this conservative Andean country was in 2003. Rights group Colombia Diversa was born the next year and spearheaded a successful lobbying and media campaign culminating in Thursday’s vote.

Lawmakers opposing the measure said it will open the door to gay marriage and adoption by homosexual couples in Colombia, something Uribe says he opposes.

The Argentine capital of Buenos Aires legalized same-sex unions in 2002, a move hailed as a first in Latin America.

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