An Argentine couple's attempt to unite in Latin America's first gay marriage was thwarted Tuesday when city officials decided to block the wedding because of conflicting judicial rulings.
Jose Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre showed up at the Buenos Aires civil registry office despite a national judge's ruling late Monday that overturned a city court's decision to permit them to wed. The first judge ruled again Tuesday that they could wed.
The couple, dressed in black suits, silver ties and a red band symbolizing AIDS awareness, waited for hours in the municipal office as officials debated which judge to obey. They were surrounded by supporters and a swarm of media.
"It's hard to have to spend this day waiting for a right that should have been ours," said Freyre, as he fought to hold back tears.
In a twist of events, the final decision fell to Mayor Mauricio Macri, who had originally given the green light to the wedding. Among cheers and chants in what felt like the final seconds of championship game, the lawyers came out to announce the news: The city would not allow the marriage until the Supreme Court has ruled on the case.
Gay rights groups expressed anger at the decision and said they would march to city hall in protest.
"In a complete act of disrespect, the city government has decided to ignore the city judge's ruling," said Maria Rachid, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals. "Macri lied to us."
The couple, wedding bouquets in hand, joined protesters outside the mayor's office.
"We were not allowed to marry today, but it will happen for us soon," Freyre said, his arm around Di Bello.
The couple of five years were fitting their wedding suits late Monday when national Judge Marta Gomez Alsina ordered the wedding blocked. Her decision reversed a Nov. 20 ruling by city Judge Gabriela Seijas that the couple had been unconstitutionally denied a marriage license and could proceed with their wedding.
Macri at the time announced he would not appeal the judge's decision and the couple scheduled a ceremony, generating hopes among activists that Argentina could be the site of the continent's first gay marriage.
Di Bello and Freyre - both HIV positive - chose Tuesday for their wedding because it was World AIDS Day and they wanted 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.
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.
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.
Amid the controversy, the couple remains committed to each other and their cause.
"I see old couples walking down the street together and I want that to be us," Di Bello said in an earlier interview. "I want to be able to turn to him when I'm old and wrinkly and call him my husband."