SAO PAULO, May 13 (UPI) -- Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced Monday the second edition of a comprehensive human rights plan that includes a proposal to legally recognize same-sex marriages.
The Programa Nacional dos Direitos Humanos contains plans for ending discrimination against minorities, women and physically disabled.
"The actions announced today reflect true state policies and not just acts of this administration," said Cardoso. "The government and society are speaking the same language -- in truth the state tries to meet the needs of society which is more organized and aware of its rights each day.
"The important thing is that it is a change for the better, which benefits human rights causes," he added.
Monday's announcement follows the Cardoso administration's first call for human rights reform by six years to the day. Among the standout issues the president chose to focus on were the creation of a national foundation for the elderly and laws to curtail domestic violence.
Brazil has, however, been criticized by international human rights watchdog groups for violations including forced labor and inadequate representation for the country's indigenous population.
Containing 518 proposals in all, the standout initiative was Cardoso's call for the legal recognition of same sex marriages.
Following his call, Cardoso posed for media waving the internationally recognized, rainbow gay pride flag.
The announcement comes as good news to Grupo Gay da Bahia, the largest gay rights group in Brazil.
GGB Vice President Marcelo Siqueira said they were pleased homosexual rights were addressed in this edition of the human rights initiative, as gay issues were not addressed the first time around in 1996.
"We hope this is the beginning of a new era -- it is the first time gay issues have been addressed in an official document," said Siqueira. "We hope that the country will ... create compensatory policies for gays, though we still want much more.
"We feel we made important conquests in this addition of the human rights initiative," he added.
GBB has called for official state recognition of same-sex marriage; removal of the word "pederasty" from Brazil's military civil code; and legal rights for the country's transsexuals to change their names once they undergo sex change operations.
According to the gay-rights group Cardoso's declaration couldn't have come at a better time. A GGB report released last month claimed 132 gays, lesbians and transsexuals were killed in Brazil last year as a result of hate crimes, the largest number recorded of any nation.
Between 1980 and 2001, GGB claims 2,092 gays in Brazil were murdered in hate crimes, an average of 104 deaths a year. The group says this is the highest rate in the world by far, with Mexico ranking second, averaging 25 murders a year.
"Brazil is the world champion of crimes against gays, lesbians and transvestites," according to an excerpt of the soon-to-be released report. "During Carnaval (the five-day country-wide celebration leading up to Lent), everyone applauds the gays on the catwalks, but during the rest of the year, they experience, humiliation, strikes against their character and death."