Witness to History

Argentina's celebration of marriage equality was a moving moment of great change

The history and people of Argentina are intensely seductive, I find. I had no real idea before I paid my recent and very first visit to Buenos Aires. I arrived for just a few days on July 20, a refreshing winter morning as a guest of Pablo de Luca and his partner Gustavo Noguera to take part in their third global LGBT travel and tourism conference.

By timing and luck, I was invited to join Pablo and Gustavo as official guests of the newly appointed Argentine Minister of Tourism Carlos Enrique Meyer to witness the presidential signing of Argentina’s marriage equality law the following evening. Speaking no more than a few words of Spanish, I tagged along with a handful of American friends including NGLCC leaders Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, and seasoned travel writers Mike Luongo and Mark Chesnut.

Just a few blocks from our hotel, we joined hundreds of Argentine celebrants standing near the Plaza de Mayo, the city’s main square. The plaza is a stately backdrop not unlike Washington’s Mall that surrounds our own federal buildings. Ironically, this was the very same square just days earlier that enabled Argentina’s Catholic hierarchy to stage a mass rally against the law – and that witnessed some 60,000 protesters chanting angrily. News reports about the protests were so inflammatory that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner noted that those who opposed same-sex marriage were using language of the Spanish Inquisition.

The Plaza de Mayo was far more hopeful and upbeat that evening as our Argentine hosts squired us to several entrances, until we secured our credentials. We then were escorted into the Casa Rosada, where the state offices are found and presidential ceremonies are often held; and where Evita Peron formerly addressed her adoring masses on the balcony outside her office.

At last, we arrived with hundreds of invited guests and public witnesses within the Hall of Science, where with President Cristina’s signature on July 21 Argentina officially became the first nation in Latin America to join gay and lesbian couples in marriage. She buoyed the cheering crowd, pointing to the symbolism of the ”Hall of Science” as it demonstrated that enlightenment trumps suspicion and fear.

After a few remarks and heartfelt presentations, the full passions of all in the room erupted, and swept towards the president for a hug, a kiss, a touch, a photo and a personal memory. While American political conventions sometimes have their unbridled emotions, I had never before witnessed exactly this kind of scene in official Washington – with the swirling, loving and passionate good humor of Argentine men and women, gay and straight, young and old, on that once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

I think we all were intoxicated by the golden noise and soft glow of the room, and I quickly realized that Argentine strongman Juan Peron was peering over the president’s right shoulder. On the wall to my right, I observed Eva Peron’s portrait paying court and Che Guevara’s likeness looming on my left. All were glimpses how much of Argentina’s history and political life are immersed in the shadows of mythic men and women.

Before the joy and noise ebbed even a little, we received a quiet signal from Minister Meyer to follow him out the door and up a private stairway. We threaded our way to the second floor of the state offices, and found ourselves waiting outside the president’s suite for a few minutes – until her door then opened and her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, emerged and introduced himself. He gestured for us to enter, where we each were welcomed by Cristina, and then took chairs at her conference table for private conversation.

For the next half hour, though sadly impossible for me to understand her Spanish, she visibly expressed her nation’s triumph with her own high emotions, observations, joy and predictions. She seemed especially proud to share the historic moment with friends and visitors from near and very far, believing, as we do, that Argentina’s giant step would create unstoppable global ripples.

Bob Witeck is co-founder and CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications in Washington.

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