(AP) BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Adults who want sex-change surgery or hormone therapy in Argentina will be able to get it as part of their public or private health care plans under a gender rights law approved Wednesday.
Senators approved the Gender Identity law by a vote of 55 to zero with one abstention and more than a dozen senators declaring themselves absent - the same margin that approved a "death with dignity" law earlier in the day.
Argentina became Latin America's first nation to legalize gay marriage two years ago, enabling thousands of same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same legal rights that apply to married heterosexual couples. For many, this gender rights law was the next step.
"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, who was appointed to his seat after the previous senator's sudden death, thus becoming the only openly gay national lawmaker in Argentina.
"There are many people in our country who also deserve the power to exist," Lopez added.
It gives people the legal right to officially change their gender without having to go to court for a judge's approval, and obligates health care companies to provide them with surgery or hormone therapy on demand.
Other countries, including neighboring Uruguay, have passed gender rights laws, but Argentina's "is in the forefront of the world" because of these benefits it guarantees, said Cesar Cigliutti, president of the Homosexual Community of Argentina.
Treatments related to gender changes will be included in the "Obligatory Medical Plan," meaning that both private and public health care providers will not be able to charge extra for the services.
"This is truly a human right: the right to happiness," Sen. Miguel Pichetto said during the debate.
President Cristina Fernandez is expected to sign the measure into law so that it will take effect upon publication in the next official government bulletin.