Culture wars in Congress
15 March 2015
Congress has been the epicentre for discussion of two important issues in the last couple of weeks both related to gender in Peru. One was the passing of the law against public harassment (ley de acoso cajellero) and the other the shelving of a bill for civil union between same-sex couples (unión civil). Discussion of both issues shows some of the great changes taking place in Peruvian social values, as well as (in the case of unión civil) the strength of conservative positions.
When the anti-harassment law was debated in the legislature, Congressman Martín Belaunde said he thought the measure exaggerated; men, he said, would be prevented from commenting on the beauty of women, and he thought it would be a tragedy when, come summer, men were surrounded by so many beautiful women in bikinis. Congresswoman Veronika Mendoza replied that there was no need to reduce the debate to such low levels in view of the vulnerable position of women in Peru, a country with one of the highest levels of domestic violence in the region as well as an alarming rate of deaths of women at the hands of their partners. The law passed, but not without many commentators in the media branding it an extreme reaction on the part of women.
The law on unión civil, sponsored by Congressman Carlos Bruce, had previously been debated by the Justice Commission and had been voted down for general debate by Congress as a whole. This time there had been high hopes the bill would approved and then passed on for debate in the plenary. However, these were once again dashed as seven representatives, mostly from the ruling Gana Perú grouping, voted to shelve the proposal. Interestingly, the bill had crossbench support, with Congresswoman Cecilia Chacon from Fuerza Popular (Fujimori’s party) voting for it as well as the independent leftist Veronika Mendoza. People took to the streets of Lima at the end of the first week of March, some in support but many others protesting against it. The latter argued it would signify the end of marriage and decency in Peru. The evangelical churches and the Catholic Church came out in force against the move, with Bishop Luis Bambarén calling Bruce ‘a queer’ (maricón), refusing to refer to him as gay since he said the word was not Peruvian.