SAO PAULO (AP) — A Brazilian state judge on Monday approved what the court said is the nation's first gay marriage.
Sao Paulo state Judge Fernando Henrique Pinto ruled two men could convert their civil union into a full marriage. Brazil's Supreme Court cleared the way in May for the recognition of same-sex civil unions, but stopped short of approving gay marriages.
A court statement said Pinto made the decision based on the top court's ruling on civil unions and on Brazil's constitution, which outlines how a civil union can be converted into a legal marriage.
Benjamin Polastri, a spokesman with the Sao Paulo state Attorney General's Office, said it was not immediately clear if the ruling set a strong national precedent. Polastri also said the just-approved gay marriage was the first for South America's biggest nation.
Jose Luiz Bednarski, a lawyer for the Sao Paulo state attorney general, said in an opinion presented to Pinto that the marriage was legal.
"The federal constitution establishes as a fundamental objective of the Federal Republic of Brazil to promote the good of everyone without bias of gender or any other form of discrimination," Bednarski wrote. "This certainly includes the choice or sexual orientation of a person."
In the Brazilian legal system, judges often seek the opinion of a state or federal attorney general about a case.
After-hours calls were not answered at the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, whose lawyers took the lead in arguing against the Supreme Court's civil union case.
While the court released only the initials of the couple that was married, the Globo television network's G1 website identified the men as Sergio Kauffman Sousa and Luiz Andre Moresi. They asked a state court in the city of Jacarei, 53 miles (85 kilometers) northeast of Sao Paulo, to approve their marriage.
"It's an immense joy. I'm still trying to comprehend this historic moment," Moresi told G1. "We've fought for so many years and now that it's happened we're in ecstasy. I dedicate this victory to all the activists."
Luiz Mott, founder of Grupo Gay da Bahia, the oldest gay rights organization in Brazil, called the marriage a huge step for LGBT rights in the country.
"Now any couple can ask for the same thing. It's a great advance," he said.
In Latin America, gay marriage is legal only in Argentina and Mexico City.
Same-sex civil unions granting some rights to homosexual couples are legal in Uruguay and in some states of Mexico outside the capital. Colombia's Constitutional Court has granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans.
Moresi said that he knew the Sao Paulo state court's ruling could be reversed by a higher court, but that "we'll take the case to the Supreme Court if needed."
Sousa told G1 that he and Moresi had been together for eight years and filed for civil union designation in May, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruling allowed them to do so. On June 6, they asked the state court to recognize their civil union as a marriage.
Pinto cited the Brazilian Constitution's section on civil unions, literally referred to as "stable unions," saying a couple "living together can, by mutual agreement and at any time, request the conversion of a stable union into a marriage."
Monday's decision, along with the May ruling by the Supreme Court on civil unions, comes at a time of increasing violence targeting gays in Brazil.
Grupo Gay da Bahia, which has tracked violence against gays for 30 years, said in a report earlier this year that 260 gays were murdered in 2010 in Brazil, up 113 percent from five years ago.
Associated Press writer Juliana Barbassa in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.