Tag Archives: gay marriage

Meet José Mujica, the Uruguayan president who’s on the path to legalizing marijuana

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Although Uruguay’s austere president José Mujica grows chrysanthemums with his wife in his humble home outside Montevideo in his spare time, that’s not the kind of flower power that’s catapulted him to global headlines this week.uruguay

Instead, he’s moved forward, surpassing a key hurdle in making Uruguay, the Southern Cone nation of 3.3 million, the first country in the world to decriminalize and regulate the sale and purchase of marijuana when the lower house of Uruguay’s parliament, the Cámara de Representantes (Chamber of Representatives) passed a legalization bill by a narrow 50-46 margin late Wednesday, which will allow the bill to sail smoothly through the upper house and to enactment.

Far from transforming Uruguay into a drug haven, however, Simon Romero, writing for The New York Times, explains the highly regulated nature of what will become the Uruguayan marijuana market, which would place strict limits on the growth, use and sale of the drug:

Under the bill, which could become law as early as this month, people would be allowed to grow marijuana in their homes, limited to six plants per household. They would also be permitted to form cooperatives allowed to cultivate 99 plants. In addition, private companies could grow marijuana under the bill, though their harvests could be bought only by the government, which would market the drug in licensed pharmacies.

To buy marijuana in pharmacies, Uruguayans would be required to enter their names into a federal registry, which is intended to remain confidential, and would be limited to buying 40 grams per month. And in a move to prevent foreign tourists from flocking to Uruguay to smoke marijuana, the legislation would restrict legal purchases to Uruguayans. Marijuana use is already largely tolerated by the Uruguayan authorities.

As remarkable as it seems, and despite international criticism of the Uruguayan measure, it was only a matter of time before a Latin American country takes the step to legalize the drug.  Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina, neither of whom are exactly left-wing ideologues have both made strident calls for marijuana legalization, and other Latin American leaders, such as former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, have called into question the longstanding U.S. anti-drug policy that’s launched a 40-year ‘War on Drugs’ that turned out to become more a war on Latin America, wreaking havoc and escalating violence from México to Perú.  Even within the United States, public opinion is turning away from criminalization — California’s ‘medical’ marijuana industry is booming and voters in Washington and Colorado elected in November 2012 to legalize marijuana in those states.

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What’s even more remarkable is the rise of the Uruguayan president who’s likely to be the first to make it happen.  In a region with sometimes eccentric leaders, the 78-year old Mujica — or as he’s affectionately known among Uruguayos, ‘Pepe’ — stands out.

A former leftist guerrilla in the Tupamaros movement, Mujica spent much of Uruguay’s military government that spanned the 1970s and early 1980s in prison.  As Romero writes in a profile of Mujica for The Times earlier this year, prison life was about as grim as imaginable for the one-time rebel fighter:

He spent 14 years in prison, including more than a decade in solitary confinement, often in a hole in the ground. During that time, he would go more than a year without bathing, and his companions, he said, were a tiny frog and rats with whom he shared crumbs of bread.

The sometimes violent tactics of the Tupamaros, which drew its inspiration from Fidel Castro’s Cuban guerrilla effort, weren’t without controversy.  But though he rarely discusses those days, his wife, Lucía Topolansky, is also a former Tupamaro, and while he has long since eschewed the more radical elements of his past, he has retained a strikingly humble approach to material wealth.  Mujica, who drives himself in a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, has been labeled by the BBC to label him as ‘the world’s poorest president’:

President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.  The president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.  This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.

As president, he has presided over a strong economy, though the GDP growth rate has fallen from 8.9% in 2010 to 5.7% in 2011 and an estimated 3.5% in 2012 — a slowing growth rate, yes, but one that’s consistently overperformed Brazil’s GDP growth in the past three years, one that is now overperforming the increasingly troubled Argentine economy, and one that would make the United States or the European Union feel like it’s experiencing an economic boom.  Mujica has been an aggressive champion of freer trade, and for expanding Mercosur, the South American free trade bloc.  He’s also a proponent of wind and other forms of renewable energy, and he’s a tireless booster of Uruguay exports, half of which are agricultural products, notably beef and grain products.

But his real legacy, even before the push for marijuana legalization, has been on social policy.  Yesterday, for example, Uruguay’s same-sex marriage act took effect after the Chamber of Deputies passed the law on an 81-6 vote last December.  He’s also signed legislation legalizing abortion restrictions.  But while those measures had broad popular appeals, polls have shown that up to two-thirds of Uruguayan voters are wary of legalizing marijuana.

As Uruguayan presidents cannot run for consecutive terms in office, much of Mujica’s devil-may-care approach to controversial issues, especially drug legalization, lies in the fact that he’s not running for reelection.  But it’s also in keeping with his honest, everyman persona, which has afforded him broad popularity, even among his critics. That popularity has made it easier for Mujica to champion unpopular issues, just as it has made it easier to deflect the loquacious president’s gaffes, such as when he was caught on tape disparaging both Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner: ‘esta vieja es peor que el tuerto,‘ which roughly translates to ‘the old woman is worse than the cross-eyed one.’

But unlike the Kirchners, who have hewn a relatively populist neo-Peronista course for Argentina, which remains shut out of global capital markets, and unlike other leftists like the late Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Mujica has been firmly on the lulista left, and like former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, he’s spent his political career moving from leftist roots — even more radical than Lula’s trade union roots in Brazil — to the political center.  Continue reading Meet José Mujica, the Uruguayan president who’s on the path to legalizing marijuana

Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

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Amid the fanfare that much of the United Kingdom would now enjoy full same-sex marriage rights following the success of Conservative UK prime minister David Cameron in enacting a successful vote earlier this week in Parliament, some LGBT activists are still waiting at the altar of public policy for their respective day of celebration.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotlandnorthernireland

Under the odd devolved system within the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, it’s up to the separate Northern Ireland Assembly to effect its own laws on marriage.  Even within Great Britain, the Scottish parliament, likewise, has the sole power to enact legislation related to marriage rights.

So while nearly 90% of the residents of the country will now be able to enter into same-sex marriages, Scottish and the Northern Irish will have to wait a little longer — and in the case of Northern Ireland, it seems like the wait will be lengthy. Scotland, with 5.3 million people (8.4% of the total UK population), and which will vote on independence in a referendum in September 2014, is already taking steps toward passing legislation, though Northern Ireland, with 1.8 million people (2.9% of the UK population), has already considered and rejected same-sex marriage.

The reason for the disparity within the United Kingdom goes back to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

Under the broad devolution process that his ‘New Labour’ government initiated upon taking power in 1997, much of the power to regulate life in Scotland was devolved from Westminster to the new parliament that met for the first time in 1999 at Holyrood.  Although a parallel Welsh Assembly exists in Cardiff for Welsh affairs, the Welsh parliament lacks the same breadth of powers that the Scottish parliament enjoys, which is why the Welsh now have same-sex marriage rights. (Take heart, Daffyd!)

Northern Ireland has a similar arrangement, with its own devolved Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, though its powers were suspended from 2002 to 2007 when the Northern Ireland peace process fell apart, however briefly.

The disparate courses of English, Scottish and Northern Irish marriage rights are a case study in how devolution works in the United Kingdom today.

Scotland: Holyrood poised to pass an even stronger marriage equality bill in 2014

Scotland’s local government, led by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party, introduced a same-sex marriage bill late in June that is set to provide an even more liberal regime of marriage rights.  While the marriage bill passed earlier this week in London actually bans the Anglican Church of England from offering same-sex marriage ceremonies, the Scottish bill won’t have the same prohibitions on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which is seen as somewhat more relaxed about gay marriage.  Like the English legislation, however, the Scottish bill offer protections to ministers on religious grounds who do not choose to officiate same-sex marriages.

Although there’s opposition to the bill within the governing SNP as well as the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party, the Conservative Party has very little influence outside England and Scotland, generally speaking, is even more socially progressive than England, which means that the legislation is widely expect to pass in the Scottish Parliament early next year, with the first same-sex marriages in Scotland to take place in 2015.

Northern Ireland: gay marriage as a football between Protestant and Catholic communities

Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Assembly considered a same-sex marriage bill, but it was defeated in April by a vote of 53 to 42 — a similar motion was defeated in October 2012 by a similar margin. Since 2005, LGBT individuals have been able to enter into civil partnerships (with most, though not all, of the rights of marriage enjoyed by opposite-sex partners) throughout the entire United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

When Scotland passes its gay marriage bill next year, however, it will leave Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without marriage equality.

Not surprisingly, given that Northern Ireland was partitioned out of the Republic of Ireland in 1921 largely on religious lines, and Protestant-Catholic violence has plagued Northern Ireland for much of the decades since, Northern Ireland is the most religious part of the United Kingdom.  A 2007 poll showed that while only 14% of the English and 18% of Scots were weekly churchgoers, fully 45% of the Northern Irish attended church weekly.

Unlike Scotland, where the mainstream UK political parties, such as the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, aim to compete with the Scottish Nationalists (with varying degrees of success), Northern Irish politics are entirely different, based instead on the largely Protestant ‘unionist’ community and the largely Catholic ‘nationalist’ community.  Around 41% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic, while around 41.5% of Northern Ireland is Protestant (mostly the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church of Ireland).

That helps explain why the opposition to gay marriage in Northern Ireland remains so strong, and it doesn’t help that the issue falls along the same lines as the entrenched unionist and nationalist divisions.  Given that it’s unlikely either community will come to dominate Northern Irish politics and the Assembly anytime soon, it means that proponents of same-sex marriage will have to convince at least some unionists to join forces with largely supportive nationalist parties to pass a marriage bill — and that may prove a difficult task for a five-way power-sharing government in Belfast that has enough difficulties even without gay marriage.  Continue reading Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

After Britain and France, will Vietnam be the next country to enact same-sex marriage?

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Now that the House of Lords has approved changes to the same-sex bill in Parliament in the United Kingdom, same-sex marriage is set to become a reality in England and Wales (a separate Scottish bill is set to follow) under Conservative prime minister David Cameron.vietnam

That follows the final enactment of same-sex marriage in France earlier this summer — though the center-right and far right have vocally opposed it, the Assemblée nationale passed the measure with ease in June, fulfilling one of president François Hollande’s key campaign promises.

Great Britain (once Scotland joins) will become the 14th nation-state to have enacted legal same-sex marriage, joining France and eight other European countries,* as well as Argentina, Brazil, Canada and South Africa.  That doesn’t include México City or the 13 states (and the District of Columbia)** in the United States that have enacted marriage equality, which comes with the full set of rights and privileges of federal law following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor that rules the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  Last month, Germany’s constitutional court delivered same-sex partnerships a key victory by ruling that they are entitled to the same tax rights as other married couples.

So what’s the next horizon in what’s become a global fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality?

Vietnam.

Probably not what you were thinking, right?  After all, Asia has not typically been the most hospitable battleground for LGBT rights.

Moreover, Vietnam is a socialist republic and a one-party state ruled by a party, the Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam (Vietnamese Communist Party), that’s been enshrined through Vietnam’s constitution as the sole organ of political affairs since 1975, when North Vietnam formally overran South Vietnam, thereby uniting the entire country under communist rule.  The Vietnamese government is repressive on just about every other vector — press freedom, internet freedom, and of course, the kind of political freedom that would allow a challenge to the governing elite.  Though the country has been transformed economically as its one-time Marxist roots have been eroded into a more state capitalist approach, and its top destination for exports is now the United States (relations between the two countries have now been normalized for nearly two decades), the zeal for liberalization hasn’t met with the same enthusiasm in other quarters.

Vietnam is most well-known internationally for its economic growth — it’s a ‘Next Eleven‘ country and, while its GDP growth has slowed in recent years, it’s still poised to become a breakout economic power in southeast Asia.  It’s also a party to the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations that could ultimately establish a free-trade zone among the United States and other South American and Asian countries.

It’s less well-known for its positions on social justice, but it would be a huge coup for the global marriage equality movement — with over 90 million people, it’s the 13th most populous country in the world, and it would be the first Asian jurisdiction to recognize same-sex marriage.  Continue reading After Britain and France, will Vietnam be the next country to enact same-sex marriage?

As U.S. awaits DOMA decision, Germany’s constitutional court weighs in on gay rights

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By the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will render decisions in two of the most important legal cases to affect same-sex marriage in the United States: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which could result in the repeal of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that overturned the state legislature’s enactment of same-sex marriage, and United States v. Windsor, which could strike down the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act.  DOMA, a 1996 law that prohibits same-sex couples from federal benefits of marriage, has been struck down by lower U.S. courts as a violation of the ‘equal protection’ clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution.  Others have argued that it violates the right of states to determine their own marriage laws and the ‘full faith and credit’ clause of the U.S. constitution that requires states to recognize the law, rights and judgments of the other U.S. states. Germany Flag Icon

Both decisions are among the most highly anticipated opinions of the Court’s summer rulings.

But Germany’s top constitutional court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, got out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last week with a landmark decision of its own that in many ways mirrors what proponents of same-sex marriage hope will be a harbinger of the U.S. decision on DOMA.

In a decision that could place pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel in advance of Germany’s federal election in September, the constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples in registered civil partnerships are entitled to the same joint t