On Friday January 31, representatives from over 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) submitted a bill for the Law of Equal Civil Marriage in Venezuela to the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN). The bill aims to legalize marriage between two individuals regardless of their sex and/or gender identity, allowing them to receive the rights that heterosexual marriages receive. The bill has received over 20,000 signatures and has been endorsed by several AN deputies, including Tania Díaz, Eduardo Piñate, Carlos Sierra, and Eduardo Lima, and several governors, including Adán Chávez, the governor of Barinas and former President Hugo Chávez’s brother.

Currently, Article 44 in the Venezuelan Civil Code establishes that the state recognizes marriages only between one man and one woman. Due to pressure from within the hierarchy of Venezuela’s Catholic Church, the Venezuelan Constitution also does not specifically mention the rights of citizens on the basis of sexual orientation, but states that all “types of discrimination because of political reasons, age, race, creed, sex or any other characteristic is prohibited.”

In defense of the bill, activists, however, have referenced several international and national documents. Giovanni Permettei, the president of Equal Venezuela, an umbrella group representing more than 40 NGOs that also designed the bill, has underscored how Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”

Activists have also pointed out that the Plan de la Patria 2013-2019, which was approved by the AN with the Law of the Republic, promotes the construction of a “just and equal society,” endorses policies of non-discrimination against “vulnerable groups,” and “promotes debate and reflection on the rights of the sexually diverse community.”

A PEW research poll conducted in March-April 2013 indicates that Venezuelans remain divided on the issue, with 51% of the population agreeing that society should accept homosexuality. Support is greatest among younger generations (18-29, 57%; 30-49, 51%) and women (59%), and lowest among older generations (50+, 45%) and men (44%). Interestingly, out of the 39 countries surveyed from all parts of the world, the gap between men and women’s support for homosexuality ranks the highest in Venezuela (+15) , with the exception of Israel (+17).

Within the group of Latin American countries surveyed (Argentina [74%], Bolivia [43%], Brazil [60%], Chile [68%], El Salvador [34%], Mexico [61%], Venezuela [51%]), Venezuela ranks above only Bolivia and El Salvador in its support.

Latin America has been recognized as a leading region in advancing the rights of the LGBTQ community and same-sex couples. On January 29, for example, the New York Times published a series of articles highlighting Latin American’s progress on these issues.

Same-sex marriage has been legalized in three Latin American countries, including Argentina (2010), Brazil (2013), and Uruguay (2013), as well as in certain areas of Mexico. Same-sex civil unions have been recognized in Colombia and the Venezuelan state of Mérida.