A judge in the Brazilian state of São Paulo has ruled that gay and lesbian couples in civil unions will no longer have to apply to the courts to have their relationships "upgraded" to marriage, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in the country's most populous state.
Sao Paulo state Judge Fernando Henrique Pinto ruled last week that state notaries will be required to register same-sex marriages without first getting court approval.
Brazil currently requires couples in same-sex civil unions to apply to a state court in order to have their relationship recognized as a marriage.
Pinto said the judgement is “intended to enable the recognition and registration of the unions of persons of the same sex without legal provocation," and that his ruling “honors human the dignity of a portion of society.”
The measure will take effect in February, and could serve as an important precedent for other Brazilian states and Latin American countries.
Brazil has rapidly advanced its gay marriage and civil unions laws in the past two years — in 2011, Brazil's Supreme Federal Court approved same-sex couples to receive the same rights as married couples through civil unions.
In Latin America, same-sex marriage is only legal in Argentina and Mexico City, while same-sex civil unions are recognized throughout Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil and Ecuador.
With a population of more than 41 million, Sao Paulo is Brazil's most populous state.
Its capital, also named Sao Paulo, is the largest city in South American and the world's seventh largest city by population. Sao Paulo hosts one of the world's largest Gay Pride events with over 3 million participants.
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