Argentina made history Wednesday by becoming the first country in the world to make sex-change operations a legal right of every citizen, mandating that public and private insurance providers cover such surgeries. The new legislation, backed by President Cristina Fernandez, who is expected to sign it, will also make it legal for a person to change his or her gender on paper without a sex change operation.
The Gender Identity Law, which passed the senate by a vote of 55-0, makes sex-change surgery as well as hormone therapy available as part of public or private health care plans. In addition, any adult in Argentina will be able to officially change his or her gender, image or birth name on an identification card without having to get approval from doctors or judges and without having to undergo physical changes beforehand.
Also, youths under 18 who want to change their genders will have the right to do so with the approval of their legal guardians.
In a campaign leading up to the vote, transgender Argentinians complained about having IDs with a name that they felt did not represent their real identity. They would now be allowed to change their names without undergoing an operation.
"This law is going to enable many of us to have light, to come out of the darkness, to appear," said Sen. Osvaldo Lopez of Tierra del Fuego, the only openly gay national lawmaker in Argentina, as quoted by CBS News.
Argentina became Latin America's first nation to legalize same-sex marriage two years ago.
Argentina is overwhelmingly Christian, with a 76 percent Roman Catholic majority. Most Christians believe that homosexuality or changing one's sex or gender is against the Bible, and for Catholics, violates the Vatican's teachings.
Also on Wednesday, the Argentinian senate voted on a law labeled the "dignified death" law, which gives terminally ill patients and their families more power to make decisions on the termination of the life of the person concerned. The senate also voted overwhelmingly in favor of the law, passing it 55-0.
The measure expressly forbids euthanasia -- actions that provoke death -- and instead focuses on the "rights" of terminally ill patients and their families to refuse surgical procedures, hydration and nutrition, reanimation and life-support systems, according to CBS News. It also absolves doctors of any legal responsibility when they follow patients' wishes.
When the law takes effect, families would be able to order doctors to end life support for people who are dying or in a permanent vegetative state, without the need for a court order, the news station reported.