The council overseeing Brazil’s judiciary has ruled that notary publics cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, a decision that opens the way for gay couples across Latin America’s largest country to marry.

The move by the National Council of Justice, a 15-member panel led by Joaquim Barbosa, the chief justice of the nation’s high court, effectively legalises gay marriage throughout Brazil, legal scholars here said. The decision follows legislation in two neighbouring countries, Argentina and Uruguay, where politicians have managed to pass bills authorising same-sex marriage in recent years.

There is some room for judicial appeals of the Brazilian decision, potentially within the high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, and resistance may emerge in Congress, where gay-marriage legislation has faced opposition from an influential bloc of evangelical Christian lawmakers. Even so, supporters of same-sex marriage described the council’s decision as pioneering.

“This resolution will end the resistance of some courts, judges and notary publics,” said Maria Berenice Dias, the vice president of the Brazilian Institute of Family Law, a non-profit organization that has sought for years to extend marriage benefits to gay couples.

The National Council of Justice, which includes prominent judges, prosecutors and lawyers, voted 14-1 in favour of the measure. Under the council’s decision, notary publics will also be required to convert same-sex civil unions into marriages, if couples wish to do so.

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