BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – They had planned a wedding day like Latin America has never seen.
But as Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre were making final preparations, an Argentine judge issued an order late Monday to block the continent's first gay marriage on Tuesday.
Di Bello and Freyre showed up anyway at the civil registry on Tuesday dressed in black suits, white shirts and a red band symbolizing AIDS awareness and waited for hours as officials debated which judge to obey: the one saying the ceremony should go ahead or the other saying it should not.
If they're stopped, the couple of nearly five years will lead a protest instead of throwing their two bouquets on the street that Buenos Aires officials already had agreed to cordon off for the media spectacle the wedding was expected to draw.
"They are shocked and saddened by the news, but still have hopes that the wedding will go forth as planned," said their attorney, Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Federation for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals.
National Judge Marta Gomez Alsina ordered the wedding blocked until the issue can be considered by the Supreme Court, according to the official court Web site. The ruling reversed a decision by city Judge Gabriela Seijas to allow the wedding to go forward.
Seijas ruled Nov. 20 that the couple had been unconstitutionally denied a marriage license, and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri announced he would not appeal the judge's decision.
Di Bello and Freyre — both HIV positive — chose Tuesday for their wedding because it is World AIDS Day and they want to help raise awareness about the issue that brought them together. Di Bello, 41, an executive at the Argentine Red Cross, met Freyre, 39, executive director of the Buenos Aires AIDS Foundation, at an HIV awareness conference.
"We are in love and excited about getting married, but we can't really think about the wedding party, the wedding night, or the honeymoon," Freyre said. "We are activists, and how can we show our faces if we forget about the rights we are representing?"
The couple sued after being denied a marriage license last April. The court rulings apply to their case only, though dozens of other gay couples are now trying the same legal route to win permission to wed.
A bill that would legalize gay marriage was introduced in Congress in October but it has stalled without a vote.
"This wedding serves as justice," said Rep. Juliana Di Tullio of President Cristina Fernandez's Officialist party and co-author of the bill. "Eventually the issue will have to be dealt with."
Only seven countries in the world allow gay marriages: Canada, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium. U.S. states that permit same-sex marriage are Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
Argentina's capital established its gay-friendly reputation in 2002 by becoming the first Latin American city to legalize same-sex civil unions. Four other Argentine cities later did the same, and such unions also now are recognized in Mexico City and some Mexican and Brazilian states. Uruguay alone has legalized civil unions nationwide.
While Buenos Aires' civil-union law was celebrated as a huge victory for gay and lesbian rights, there are still many rights exclusive to married couples, such as the right to adopt children in the name of both parents, to enable a partner to gain citizenship and to inherit wealth or be included in insurance policies.
Many in Argentina are still opposed to gay marriage, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, which continues to be a strong influence in state affairs. Soon after Macri announced he would not appeal the city judge's decision to permit Di Bello and Freyre to wed, Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio released a statement expressing his disapproval.
Amid the controversy and media frenzy around their planned marriage, the couple is committed to each other and their cause. Among the camera lights and repeated questions during a prenuptial interview, the two turned to look at each other mid-sentence as if they where the only two people in the room.
"I see old couples walking down the street together and I want that to be us," Di Bello said. "I want to be able to turn to him when I'm old and wrinkly and call him my husband."