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Civil unions between same-sex couples must be allowed in Brazil, the country's Supreme Court has ruled

Civil unions between same-sex couples must be allowed in Brazil, the country's Supreme Court has ruled

Civil unions between same-sex couples must be allowed in Brazil, the country's Supreme Court has ruled

Brazil's Supreme Court has ruled that civil unions between same-sex couples must be allowed in the country, which has more Roman Catholics than any other nation.

In a 10-0 vote, with one abstention, the justices said gay couples deserve the same legal rights as heterosexual pairs when it comes to alimony, retirement benefits of a partner who dies, and inheritances, among other issues.

The ruling, however, stopped short of legalising gay marriage. In Latin America, that is legal only in neighbouring Argentina and in Mexico City.

Same-sex civil unions granting some rights to homosexual couples are legal in Uruguay and in some states of Mexico outside the capital. Colombia's Constitutional Court has granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans.

Brazil's ruling sets a judicial precedent that must be honoured by all public institutions, including notary publics where civil unions must be registered.

"This is a historic moment for all Brazilians, not just homosexuals. This judgment will change everything for us in society - and for the better," said Marcelo Cerqueira, of the gay rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia. "Gays, lesbians and transsexuals will be recognised as being more human. We'll be more accepted by having our rights honoured."

The request for the Supreme Court to recognise civil unions came two years ago from the Brazilian attorney general's office, largely because legislation that would give same-sex couples the rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples has been stalled in Congress for more than a decade.

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Brazil's constitution defines a "family entity" as "a stable union between a man and a woman". But the attorney general's office argued the clause is only a definition and not a limitation, and thus the charter does not say a stable union can "only" be between a man and a woman.

The attorney general also argued that the constitution does not specifically forbid a civil union between people of the same sex - and that failing to recognise same-sex unions violates the charter's defences of human dignity and equality.

A lawyer representing Brazil's National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, Jose Sarubbi de Oliveira, argued to the court that the constitution recognises only a legal partnership between a man and a woman and that the justices would be wrongly interpreting the document to rule otherwise.


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