Gay Couples Wait for Ruling on Adoption Law in Uruguay

A closer reading of an adoptions law promoted by Uruguay's gay rights groups suggests it might not enable adoptions by gay and lesbian couples after all.

With the law awaiting President Tabare Vazquez's signature, gay rights groups have been celebrating the prospect that Uruguay could become the first country in Latin America to give gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to adopt.

But nowhere in the law does it specifically say that homosexual couples have a right to adopt. And in some places, it suggests otherwise — for example by specifying how the child should take a mother and father's surnames.

Lawyers, judges and even the law's own authors now have doubts about how the law will be applied.

Under Vazquez, Uruguay already legalized gay civil unions and ended a ban on homosexuals in the military, despite strong disapproval from the Roman Catholic Church.

The church also campaigned against the adoptions law, which shifts much of the decision-making to the national Institute of Children and Adolescents, and away from a system in which individual lawyers, notaries and religious groups had a central role.

The new law would drop a requirement that children can only be adopted by legally married couples or single parents.

Deputy Margarita Percovich, who wrote the law, acknowledged that it doesn't directly mention same-sex adoptions, but said it would enable them because gays and lesbians already can legally form civil unions, and "the law enables couples in civil unions to adopt children without impediment."

But Attorney Juan A. Ramirez, an expert in civil rights law, told the leading newspaper El Pais that judges still won't be able to approve same-sex adoptions, because this intent isn't explicitly described in the law.

"Any objective interpretation of the law would conclude that either they forgot to mention that gay couples can adopt, or they didn't want to mention it. They didn't want to take the bull by the horns and resolve it clearly — they left it undefined," he said.

Family judge Estrella Perez said the judges association now plans to meet "to see how to resolve these doubts."

"We all have them."

And a lawyer for the institute, Edgard Marzarini, told reporters that he doesn't know how to resolve a same-sex adoption given the law's requirement that a child take a mother and father's surnames: "These are the holes that later give us problems."