Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello made headlines around the world Dec, 28, 2009, as the first same-sex couple in Latin America to marry.
Defiant after a judge in late November denied their request, the couple traveled to the southern end of Argentina to wed at a registry office in Ushuaia, capital of Argentina's Tierra del Fuego province.
In front of local press, with their brothers as witnesses and surrounded by family and friends, they were married.
Freyre, 39, and di Bello, 41both gay-rights activists and members of the Argentine Federation for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexualsdecided to get married two years ago and join three other couples seeking the right to marry as part of the group's agenda. Since 2002 Buenos Aires has allowed gay couples to join in civil unions but not in marriage.
The precedent has encouraged dozens of couples to seek the same right.
I spoke with Freyre while he and di Bello were visiting a local hospital for Children living with HIV/AIDS. They were joined by members of the Argentine Network of Positive People to hand out gifts for a Three Kings celebration. Our conversation, translated from the original Spanish, appears below:
Emmanuel Garcia: How did you meet your partner?
Alex Freyre: We already knew each other before we started our romance. Jose Maria is the co-director of HIV/AIDS for the Argentine Red Cross and organized an activity with Red Argentina de Personas Positivas, of which we are both members. I met him there but the romance didn't start then because we were both in different relationships and didn't see each other in that way. One year later during a meeting for Red Argentina de Personas Positivasboth singlewe discovered each other again. … After a long day of exhausting discussions, we went to the beach to see the ocean. That is where the romance started, where we had those first glances, the first long walk holding hands, the first kisses.
EG: When did you first move in together?
ALEX FREYRE: In reality, neither of us left our own apartment. It was a matter of quantity of books, lots of boxes, furniture and clothing. We maintain our independence, but we started sleeping together during the first week we met and have never stopped sleeping together. We either sleep at his home or mine.
EG: When did you know this was the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?
ALEX FREYRE: Because of the absolute impossibility for gay and lesbians to marry under the law, it is rare for a couple to have the desire to marry. We didn't either. We began a relationship and took it as far as gays in Latin America can, sharing a house, living together, introducing one another to our families, spending Christmas together with familyour nephews call the other partner "uncle"but marriage was never a goal or desire in our relationship, as it was never a possibility.
EG: Why is marriage important to you?
ALEX FREYRE: Two years ago in Paris I proposed to José Maria. We joined together as a couple to win marriage. Marriage is not necessarily what Jose Maria and I want in life as a couple. We want the right to marry as activists. There are many couples in Argentina who have this urgent need.
For example, here in Argentina single people can adopt children. Many children are adopted by lesbians and gays individually, but because gays and lesbians can't marry, children can't be adopted by both as a couple. These couples have an urgent need to marry so that when one of them has a health problem, they can make decisions about the apartment, car or personal property they have built as a couple. In our case Jose Maria and I are in love with each other but our relationship doesn't need marriage to materialize. But because we are both gay activists, we are very committed to the pursuit of rights and pushed ourselves as a couple to win marriage. We are excited we won marriage because we opened the door for thousands of couples.
EG: Did you ever try to get a civil union in Buenos Aires?
ALEX FREYRE: Yes, but the civil-union law is a municipal law that has virtually no significance in the social change we seek.
Even after we win judicial equality, it's going to take a long time to win social equality. Look at the historical fight against slavery. Although slavery no longer exists in the U.S., many African Americans still face discrimination. The same goes for gays and lesbians. Once we win equality under the law, social equality will take many years.
The civil-union law is a certificatea paperthat says two people live together, nothing more. It doesn't provide any rights. It is a family that is not recognized by the law that ultimately serves no purpose. The civil-union law is a setback because many gays believe it is marriage and stops them from demanding their full rights. We want the same rights with the same names.
EG: What type of support have you received from your family?
ALEX FREYRE: I always jokingly say, "My father is a poor conservative. He wants me to get married." [ Laughs ]
Each of us won over the other's family, as gay and also as a person living with HIV.
Our parents have come to every meeting to plan our strategy. My father has come with us to television programs to say, "I am a proud father of a gay son and his future husband," "I am the father in law of Jose Maria and I love them both the same as my other children" or "I want grandchildren by them," although we aren't going to give him that because we don't want to adopt. [ Laughs ]
But that's what my father says. He has been very brave because usually we see gays accompanied by their mothers. Many fathers have called him congratulating him and asking for advice.
EG: As an activist, is marriage the most important issue for the LGBT community?
ALEX FREYRE: Certainly marriage is not the most urgent, but it is the most symbolic. It is much more urgent to stop the pursuit of transvestites by police. In Argentina, each province has an anti-constitutional law that punishes trans people for wearing clothes of the opposite sex. They can go to jail for up to 30 days.
That is why 35 percent of transvestites have HIV in Argentina. They are not part of democracy because the law forbids them from participating. We need to fix the law of gender identity so that they can have identification with their name on it. Most urgently, [ we need to ] repeal the law that allows the police to persecute them.
We need sex education in schools from a perspective of diversity. These are the four most important points we are working on at the same time. We won marriage faster than the others, but we continue to work very hard for our more urgent priorities.