Brazil's Supreme Federal Court recently voted to legalize same-sex unions, even though Brazil has the largest population of Roman Catholics in the world.
Last week's decision doesn't legalize gay marriage — available only in Argentina and Mexico City — but the 10-0 vote — one justice abstained — means homosexual couples will have rights mirroring those of heterosexual couples, including pension, health care and inheritance benefits and, according to some lawyers, the right to adopt children.
Brazil now joins Colombia and Uruguay as countries that recognize civil unions, while governments in Costa Rica and Venezuela recognize a lesser form of same-sex partnership registration, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Gay-rights groups throughout Latin America have praised the decision and hope for a ripple effect throughout the continent, but the Roman Catholic Church remains opposed to any decision that seeks to alter constitutional definitions of marriage they say refers to one man and one woman.
Although nearly 140 million of Brazil's 190 million-plus people are Roman Catholic, the country is also home to the largest gay parade in Sao Paulo, attended each year by nearly 3 million people.
Many hope the ruling decreases violence against gays, which has been growing in recent years.