Local television showed thousands of protesters braving the cold wintry air of Buenos Aires to voice opposition to the bill throughout the night, while supporters held candlelight vigils. The government's National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism organized a public gathering of artists to support the bill.
In deeply Catholic Latin America, the church has taken a leading voice among opponents. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio called gay marriage in Argentina a loss for everyone, saying “children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother.”
Ms. Fernandez, speaking from China, reiterated her support for the bill and her dissent with the Catholic Church over the issue. “It's very worrisome to hear words like 'God's war' or 'the devil's project,' things that recall the times of the Inquisition," she said this week.
Some political analysts have suggested the president's support is a political calculation to garner votes for upcoming presidential elections in 2011, in which former president Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez's husband, is widely expected to run.
But the Kirchners and their supporters are hardly outliers on the issue.
Mexico City became the first city in Latin America to approve gay marriage in December. The bill here came as civil unions between same-sex couples gained steam across Latin American cities, first in Buenos Aires in 2002 and later in cities throughout Mexico and Brazil. Uruguay in 2008 legalized civil unions nationwide. The next year, the Constitutional Court in Colombia granted same-sex couples rights such as inheritance and health insurance.