In setback for activists, Paraguay rejects controversial anti-discrimination law
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In setback for activists, Paraguay rejects controversial anti-discrimination law

On Thursday, November 13, the Paraguayan Senate rejected a controversial anti-discrimination law that would have protected individuals from religious, sexual, political and physical discrimination. While the bill did not explicitly mention same-sex marriage, those opposing the law used the issue to argue against the measure, saying such a law would open the door for pro-gay legislation in the country.

That law was introduced by Senators Miguel Abdón Saguier and Carlos Filizzola, of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico and Partido País Solidario, respectively. Their efforts were supported by various human rights organizations including Amnesty International.

In a three-hour debate on the Senate floor, supporters of the law argued that Paraguay was the only country in the region without an anti-discrimination law.

To support the bill, Amnesty launched an online campaign with testimonies under the hashtag #YoNoDiscrimino (I don’t discriminate) and photos of various couples hugging. Protesters outside the capitol building also carried signs saying “I have been discriminated against,” to argue for the necessity of the measure.

The effort to pass the law stemmed out of a resolution passed by the Organization of American States in June that promised a LGBT human rights platform. That meeting took place in Asunción, Paraguay, despite the host country’s own lack of protections for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As protesters picketed outside the building, President Horacio Cartes voted against the resolution.

Prior to the Thursday vote, many organizations also mobilized in opposition to the law. These groups included the Catholic Church and “pro-family” associations, which gathered outside Congress on the day of the vote.

A recent report by Pew Forum on Catholicism in Latin America noted the overall decline of religion in the region, but made a special reference to the continued strength of Catholicism in Paraguay. The nation remains one of the most staunchly Catholic countries in the region, with 89 percent of the population identifying as Catholic and just 7 percent as Protestants. The Bishops of Paraguay issued a statement on November 12 calling for “respect of the family” and urging lawmakers to vote against the bill.

See also: Catholicism on the decline across Latin America

While Cartes did not get involved in the Senate debate surrounding the law, he has waded into the issue before. During his election campaign last year, he made disparaging remarks against gays in Paraguay, publicly comparing gay people to “monkeys” and likening the support of same-sex marriage to believing in the “end of the world.”

In a blow to local and international activists, the anti-discrimination bill ultimately failed, with twenty-one senators voting against the law, seventeen voting in favor, one abstention and six absences.

Amnesty International noted its dismay at the vote, but explained that the effort had jumpstarted a national debate. The organization vowed to keep fighting for greater equality in rights and work toward the eventual adoption of an anti-discrimination law in the future. Senator Esperanza Martínez, of the Guasú Front party, which supported the law, also proclaimed that the vote would open up a public conversation to advance the ideas behind an anti-discrimination law for the future.

Elsewhere in region, Argentina and Uruguay allow for same-sex marriage and adoption and Brazil allows same-sex marriage, while Colombia and Ecuador permit same-sex unions.

Read more: Couples in Ecuador can now register civil unions