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Uruguay ready to say "I do" to marriage equality

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Marriage equality is all but certain in the South American nation of Uruguay after the lower house of Congress late Tuesday voted 81-6 in favor of a bill that would grant the same rights to same-sex couples that are enjoyed by straight couples.

The bill goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved in January. President José Mujica says he will sign the bill into law.

"This is not a homosexual or gay marriage law. It is a measure to equalize the institution independent of the sex of the couple," said Julio Bango, one of the authors of the bill.

Uruguay will join Argentina as the only two South American countries to provide marriage for all its citizens. Same-sex marriage is offered in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and parts of the United States. Mexico is poised to join the ranks after its high court’s historic ruling.

The marriage bill in Uruguay breaks with Hispanic tradition by allowing all couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, to decide whose surname will go first when they name their children. Laws in Hispanic countries often require that children carry two names, with the father’s last name coming before the mother’s last name.

The bill also revises language in marriage and adoption laws to be gender-neutral.

Uruguay is swiftly becoming one of the most progressive nations in South America, where its residents are proud of a secular tradition in governing and where the Roman Catholic Church is less influential in politics than in other Latin countries. Last year, Uruguay became the first Latin American nation to legalize abortion. This year, Uruguay is debating whether to legalize marijuana and have the government take charge of sales as a way to raise money and drive illegal traffickers out of business.

"Very happy here!" said Álvaro Queiruga of the LGBT lobby group Colectivo Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep Collective), which pushed for passage of the bill.