Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 12:39 UK

Uruguay approves sex change bill

Gay men holding hands
The new bill still rules out gay marriage

Transsexuals in Uruguay will soon be able to legally register a change of name and gender after the country's senate approved a controversial bill.

The law, which was passed unanimously, is strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and opposition conservatives.

The bill is the latest in a series of liberal measures promoted by the left-wing Uruguayan government.

It will come into force as soon as it is signed by President Tabare Vasquez.

Under the new legislation, transsexuals will be able to change their name on all official documents, from birth certificates to passports, to reflect the gender of their choice.

The law was passed without problems in the Senate on Monday, after the Chamber of Deputies changed the initial proposal to stress that it did not constitute a legalisation of gay marriage.

It's a big step forward for transsexuals and their rights as citizens
Diego Sempol
Ovejas Negras

The amendment came after the Civil Registry Office warned that by allowing people to officially change their name and gender, same sex couples could marry without hindrance.

Under the new proposal, documents reflecting the original gender and name will not be destroyed, but archived and amended.

The amendment also restricts the change of gender and name to those over 18 and stipulates that five years have to pass before an applicant can request another change.

Gay, lesbian and transgender groups welcomed the vote.

Diego Sempol of the pressure group Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep), told BBC Mundo its approval was a "big step forward for transsexuals" and said it would ease their integration into the education and health systems, as well as the labour market .

"We often find it hard to get jobs, because the way we look doesn't match our documents. I don't look at all like the person on my ID, nor does my name reflect my identity", said Fabricio, who was born a woman.

The new law is one of a series of measures putting Uruguay at the forefront of gay rights legislation.

It comes only a month after it became the first Latin American country to allow gay couples the chance to adopt. Earlier this year, the Uruguayan Congress also cleared the way for gay candidates to enter military schools. Same-sex civil unions were legalised in 2008.

Church opposition

Those moves have been strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church in Uruguay. The archbishop of Montevideo, Nicolas Cotugno, told Vatican Radio that the family as an institution had become the object of widespread attacks.

He said there were projects under way to promote homosexuality with the aim of destroying the traditional family unit.

He also said that in the general election due later this month, the Church would support political candidates who promoted laws with "Christian values".

While its raft of liberal measures may well have won the governing left-wing coalition the sympathy of gay and transsexual voters, its popularity with the wider population will only become apparent on election day on 25 October.

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