In a 10-0 decision May 5, Brazil's Federal Supreme Court ordered that same-sex couples be permitted to register their unions, which will grant them the rights of marriage.
The ruling came in two cases. In one, the governor of Rio de Janeiro state, Sérgio Cabral, argued that nonrecognition of the same-sex unions of state employees violated constitutional guarantees of equality, freedom and dignity. He also said that conflicting rulings around the nation had created legal confusion.
The other case, filed by the federal attorney general's office, asked that same-sex couples be legally considered "family" and granted the same rights as opposite-sex couples. The office also said that not recognizing same-sex unions violated guarantees of equality and dignity.
Gay activists hailed the ruling and vowed to push onward for access to marriage.
"The Supreme Court decision is a victory for democracy," said Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Association. "No one has lost as a result of the decision, not even those who are contrary, but a significant proportion of Brazilian men and women have gained access to equal rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution thus far denied to same-sex couples."
"The Supreme Court has given an excellent example to the National Congress, which has not advanced with this issue since it was first submitted in 1995," Reis added. "This is yet another victory in the battle against inequality. We shall continue to demand that the National Congress approve legislation to criminalize homophobic discrimination and to recognize civil marriage between same-sex couples."
With a population of almost 191 million, Brazil is the fifth-largest nation in the world, and has the world's largest Roman Catholic population.