Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday to recognize same-sex civil unions as a "family entity."
The ruling makes the largely Roman Catholic country one of a few countries in South America to allow some form of legal unions for homosexual couples.
The proceedings over the case began Wednesday, lasting about 10 hours, and ended on Thursday with a 10-0 decision, and one abstention.
The ruling grants gay and lesbian couples the same benefits – such as retirement benefits, inheritance, community property and social welfare – as heterosexual married couples.
Justice Carlos Ayres Britto, the author of the ruling, stated (in translation), "Equality is complete."
"All rights of heterosexual people are valid for homosexuals."
The approval comes after intense opposition by Catholic and Protestant leaders, along with Christian congressmen.
Arguing against recognizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, Hugo Jose de Oliveira, an attorney for The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, a Catholic organization that presented a defense at the trial, expressed that the recognition of stable unions was already set in a clear way in the Constitution.
Brazil’s constitution defines family as a stable union between a man and a woman. With that, Oliveira argued, “There is nothing to be interpreted. I cannot imagine why the expression 'man and wife' have to be discussed.”
He added, "This is not about saying whether it is for or against something, but whether it is constitutional or not ... Plurality has its limits.”
Justice Britto, however, stated that people’s sexuality is a private matter and the state has no right to arbitrate it.
"The freedom to pursue one's own sexuality is part of an individual's freedom of expression,” he said.
The CNBB expressed concern during its 49th General Assembly that the decision undermines the foundation of the family.
Evangelical Pastor Marco Feliciano, of the Social Christian Party, expressed disappointment in the ruling, pointing out the hypocrisy in a country where a majority of the population calls themselves Christians. He wrote on Twitter, "Abandon the hypocrisy!”
He also encouraged people to take action by contacting senators on the matter.
Nearly three-quarters of the Brazilian population is Catholic and around 15 percent is Protestant. There are about 60,000 gay couples in the country, according to the IBGE Census 2010.
Gay marriage is legal in Argentina and Mexico City.