Uruguay was one of the first countries in the world to have a social security system (1919) and give women the vote (1917). More recently it has also been trend breaking in its anti-tobacco legislation (defeating Phillip Morris in the process) and legalizing cannabis. Homosexuality has also been legal since 1934.

Recent years have seen a number of pieces of legislation which recognize rights of homosexual couples – within and outside of marriage - and prevent discrimination.

Interestingly, the legislation has been accompanied by a change in social attitudes. Today Uruguay is widely recognized as the most "gay-friendly" country in Latin America.

Relevant Legislation

  1. Civil Unions:

These were recognised in 2007 by Law No. 18.246 and apply in exactly the same terms to heterosexual couples and single sex couples.

The couple must have been in a single, stable relationship for at least 5 years. The application is made to the civil registry. Once granted couples have most of the same rights as married couples, particularly in terms of taxation, inheritance, pensions and healthcare. Note that recognition of a civil union can be obtained post death of one of the partners.

  1. Same sex marriages:

These were recognized in 2013 by Law No. 19.075 and obviously couples have exactly the same rights as a heterosexual married couple. Interestingly the Uruguayan judiciary had already recognized a foreign single sex marriage (from Spain) as valid in 2012, so that for a while same sex couples had to leave the country to marry.

  1. Right of same sex couples to adopt:

This was recognized in 2009 by Law No. 18.590.

  1. Anti-Discrimination laws

Discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation was prohibited in 2004 by Law No. 17. 817.


Uruguay has always been a very secular country (in contrast to the rest of Latin America), so the power of the Catholic Church or other religions to hold sway on these issues has been more limited.

However the country was, and in many ways still is, quite "machista". But in this area – as in the anti-tobacco legislation – the government has acted as a leader in forming and changing public opinion. It is not that everybody is now turning homosexual – as some may have feared (!!?) – just that people are being allowed to get on with their lives as they wish.

Photo: Intendencia de Montevideo / Photographer: Artigas Pessio

NB: The photo shows the Montevideo welcome sign painted for gay pride week.



Note: This article is for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please consult with a lawyer as to your particular circumstances.