After a heated summer debate that ended with Argentina’s Congress not passing a bill that would have legalized abortion on demand, the government of President Mauricio Macri decided on Friday not to pursue a modification to a sex education bill that many had warned sought to impose “gender ideology.”
The decision was announced through social media by the National Minister of Education, Alejandro Finocchiaro, who said that the current bill, introduced in 2006, doesn’t need to be modified but “implemented.”
The minister also said that the government believes in the “principal and fundamental” role of families, and the “undeniable” role parents have in the education of their children.
With his statement, Finocchiaro closed an argument that was beginning to flourish among those who considered the proposed reforms as an imposition of gender ideology.
The decision was welcomed by pro-life groups and religious schools, as the current bill allows for each institution to implement a sexual education program in accordance with their “principles and ideas,” with the presumption that parents chose their children’s school for a reason.
Several bills proposed around the time congress voted no on abortion wanted to remove an article stating that each educational institution could adapt the Bill of Integral Sexual Education according to its sociocultural reality and within the frame of respect for the institutional identity and conviction of those choosing the school.
Despite Finocchiaro’s announcement, thousands rallied in cities up and down the pope’s country on Sunday under the motto of “Don’t mess with my children,” [Con mis hijos no te metas], a non-confessional movement born in Peru as a way to fend off what the Church, and Francis himself, has long dubbed “gender ideology.”
Sunday’s rally went ahead in part because, organizers have said, they see the government’s decision as an attempt to placate internal disagreements in the ruling party over the bill, but also because of the division the debate has caused in public opinion, an especially sensitive point given that Macri is up for reelection next year.
On Friday the local bishops’ conference released a statement expressing concern over the “imposition of gender ideology” in the debate over a new Integral Sexual Education Bill, stating that this goes against the “Christian vision of the world on this issue.”
The statement, titled “Let’s distinguish: Sex, gender, and ideology,” includes reflections based on Catholic teaching and was redacted by several commissions of the bishops’ conference: Laity and family; Catechesis and Health ministry.
They warn against “the risk of certain ideological positions that want to be imposed as a common thought.”
In this sense, they point out that for the proponent of gender ideology, gender is a “multivalent, fluid and self-constructed action independent of biology, so that one’s identity could be designed according to each person’s autonomous desires.”
To make their point they quote Pope Francis, who in the 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family Amoris laetitia says that “this [gender] ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.”
The pontiff, who’s often said the family is under threat because of this ideology, goes on to say that as a consequence, “human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”
“It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated,” the pontiff wrote.
The Argentine Church has warned against changes in the bill that would ignore the freedom that parents and educational institutions have to choose a program according to their beliefs.
However, the text asserts that “gender” is a useful category of cultural analysis and a way of understanding reality.
“To look at society taking into account the roles, representations, rights and duties of people according to their gender, is to adopt a gender perspective, a situation that is necessary to [guarantee] that all people are treated according to their equal dignity,” it says.
Yet recognizing “gender” does not prevent the statement from warning against the so-called gender ideology that “distinguishes sex and gender, separating them and preventing the harmonious integration of all aspects of the human person.”
Francis has spoken about this issue often. For instance, in 2016, during his visit to Georgia and speaking off-the-cuff, he said that there’s a “global war” trying to destroy marriage, and it’s the “theory of gender.”
“They don’t destroy [the family] with weapons, but with ideas. It’s certain ideological ways of thinking that are destroying it…we have to defend ourselves from ideological colonization,” he said.