For election aficionados like me, this year’s Brazilian presidential race is a treat. It’s looking to be the most unpredictable of my lifetime with so many firsts. It’s the first time two women are the favourite candidates, it may well be the first time a candidate from the centre-right party PSDB gets eliminated in the second round since 1994 and also the first time that gay rights are finally being discussed on the electoral campaign trail.
Brazil’s Supreme Court already allows gay marriage and also gay adoption but so far most politicians have been very timid about discussing the topic. There are exceptions such as Jean Wyllys from PSOL (the far-left party), who holds the unusual dual honour of being both a respected academic and Brazil’s first gay winner of TV show Big Brother. He is one of the few gay parliamentarians and is held in high regard by both Congress and the electorate alike.
This year the debate has centred around the issue of whether to criminalise homophobia, which would mean that a crime against a gay person can be treated in the same way as racism by the law. Popular Socialist Party candidate Marina Silva included a proposal to make the law official in her agenda but just a day after announcing it, under pressure from Evangelical leaders, she decided to drop the issue. Of course she’s not anti-gay but many people have now become suspicious of this last-minute decision.
President Dilma Rousseff is up for re-election with the Worker’s Party and has been quick to jump in and say that as part of her new mandate the law would be put into practice. Some have treated this as a cynical policy, as she saw that Marina’s decision didn’t bode well with more progressive voters within the electorate.
Moving away from what might happen about the law itself, it is fascinating to see gay rights being discussed on live TV debates. It may be slightly coyly addressed, still, but mainstream politicians seem no longer afraid to discuss the issue in fear of losing votes. Several recent polls have shown that the majority of Brazilians are pro-gay rights.
The only issue that is still quite thorny in the country is abortion. Currently, it might be fair to say that no candidate in favour of legalising abortion could get elected. This could change but I feel it will be more difficult to convince Brazilian voters about the issue than it has been for gay rights. But Green Party leader Eduardo Jorge did recently speak about it in one of the presidential TV debates.
Moral issues are finally entering the debate in Brazil and voters are learning that creating a prosperous nation isn’t all about running a tight economy. Whatever the outcome of the vote, this is one of the things that all Brazilians can be proud about when they head to the ballot box.
Fernando Augusto Pacheco is a researcher for Monocle 24.