MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (Reuters) — Lawmakers voted Wednesday to extend adoption rights to gay couples in Uruguay, the latest measure to relax laws on homosexuality that has drawn criticism from church leaders in the country, which is predominantly Roman Catholic.
Members of Congress said the law made Uruguay the first Latin American country to permit gay couples to adopt. The measure, which will now go to President Tabaré Vázquez for his signature, will also for the first time allow unmarried couples to adopt.
“This law is a significant step toward recognizing the rights of homosexual couples,” Diego Sempol, a member of the gay rights group, Black Sheep, told Reuters Television earlier this week.
Gay people are allowed to adopt under Uruguayan law, but only as individuals rather than jointly as a couple. Gay marriage remains illegal.
The Parliament in Uruguay, a small South American nation with a secular state structure, passed a law in late 2007 to permit gay couples to have civil unions, which grant similar rights as marriage.
Earlier this year the center-left government also lifted a ban on gay people serving in the armed forces.
Church leaders criticized the new adoption law, and the center-right National Party voted against it.
“The family is the bedrock of society and this measure weakens it,” said Senator Francisco Gallinal of the National Party. “For us, allowing children to be adopted by same-sex couples is conditioning the child’s free will.”
Latin America is home to about half of the world’s Roman Catholics, and government policies in most countries on gay rights and other divisive issues like abortion tend to reflect the church’s conservative stance.