MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he supports gay marriage boosted the hopes of gay rights groups around the world that other leaders will follow his example, though opponents denounced his switch as a shameless appeal for votes.
Several countries, including Canada, Spain and Argentina, allow same-sex marriage, but far more countries ban it and dozens even prohibit consensual same-sex relations. Gay-rights groups hope Obama’s views will inspire more change.
“This is incredibly important, it’s excellent news. The United States is a global leader on everything, and that includes gay rights,” said Julio Moreira, president of the Rio de Janeiro-based Arco-Iris gay rights group. “This will force other nations like Brazil to move forward with more progressive policies.”
Vatican and other religious officials didn’t comment, but political leaders and others opposed to gay marriage excoriated Obama. In particular, politicians tied to Pentecostal and Catholic churches have spoken out strongly against same-sex marriage in Latin America.
“Barack Obama is an ethical man and a philosophically confused man,” said Peruvian congresswoman Martha Chavez of the conservative Catholic Opus Dei movement. “He knows that marriage isn’t an issue only of traditions or of religious beliefs. Marriage is a natural institution that supports the union of two people of different sexes because it has a procreative function.”
In Australia, where three bills that would allow gay marriage have been introduced in Parliament,Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she won’t be following Obama’s lead. She has consistently opposed gay marriage, though many members of her Labor Party support it.
“I’ve made my mind up and my position on this is well known,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra. “I think it just reinforces this as a matter that people form their own views on, a deeply personal question people will think about, work their way through it; obviously President Obama has and he’s announced a decision.”
Religion-based opposition is strong in Egypt’s conservative Muslim-dominated society, which rejects same-sex relations. Laws prohibiting “debauchery” or “shameless public acts” have been used to imprison gay men in recent years.
“This is unacceptable, because it is against religion, traditions and against God,” said engineer Shady Azer in Cairo. “God created Adam and Eve. He didn’t create two Adams or two Eves.”
Gay marriage in legal in several countries; most are in Europe but others include Canada and South Africa. Several U.S. states allow it, but voters in many other states, including North Carolina on Tuesday, have banned it with constitutional amendments.
In 2010, Argentina became Latin America’s first country to approve gay marriage. Cesar Cigliutti, president of the Gay Community of Argentina group, said Obama was only catching up to the rest of the world.
“It seems to me that by taking this position Obama is aligning himself with the entire world, with these times we’re living in, with the achievements of rights in other countries,” Cigliutti said.
Brazil’s Supreme Court approved civil unions last year, followed by several state courts upholding the conversion of civil unions into full marriages. The nation’s top appeals court then upheld those marriages in October, setting national precedent, but Catholic and evangelical churches and religious politicians continue to block the approval of any legislation in Congress enshrining gay marriage.
Moreira, the Brazilian activist, noted that efforts by President Dilma Rousseff to promote anti-homophobia education in Brazilian schools were scuttled last year after it became clear religious legislators would block unrelated legislation in protest.