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Brazil's Prisons Debate
Gay Conjugal Visits

By Ernest Barteldes
A Special Report from Fortaleza, Brazil

brazil.jpg - 11.14 K Pernambuco, Brazil--For years long-term inmates in Brazilian prisons have benefited from state-approved conjugal visits. At first, prisoners had to be legally married in order to have sexual relations, a right which was (and still is) guaranteed by civil law.

Over the years, however, the country's sexual behavior code has changed, and now even single men and women are able to apply for weekly conjugal visits from their sweethearts.

Until recently, such benefits were awarded only to heterosexuals, whilst gays were not considered eligible, simply because Brazilian law has not recognized same-sex relationships.

The stage has now been set to remedy this lack of recognition, however. The boyfriend of an inmate in a maximum security prison in Pernambuco, Brazil, has filed an application to the state's Secretary of Justice requesting the right of conjugal visits to his lover, who is behind bars for armed robbery.

In an unexpected move, Pernambuco's Secretary of Justice not only granted the plaintiff's wish but also extended the right to any homosexual inmates wishing to enjoy conjugal privileges, based on a recent constitutional amendment which prohibits discrimination, including bias because of sexual orientation.

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The decision has raised a ruckus in Brazil, but the strongest negative reactions have come unexpectedly from heterosexual inmates.

These inmates say that they will not agree to the measure. Since their wives and children visit them, they say they feel that their families would be exposed to a "shameless profanity".

The openly homosexual inmates, however, are not reveling. They too oppose to the decision, not for moral reasons, but because they fear the heterosexual inmates will wax violent against them if they embrace their rights under the constitution.

Meanwhile, an instant poll last Sunday on Brazilian TV Globo network showed that the population is also divided with 52 percent agreed to the measure and 48 percent considering it improper. Their motives were not disclosed.

The Secretary of Justice's decision now raises other questions: If the Brazilian constitution declares it a violation to discriminate on account of sexual orientation, how is it that same-sex unions remain unrecognized, thus causing problems involving inheritances, separations and the like?

The state of Pernambuco, unaware, has created a precedent, opening the door for a national debate over the rights of Brazil's homosexual citizenry.

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