Gay rights proponents in Argentina's Chamber of Deputies (la Camara de Diputados) failed to gain sufficient support to open debate on a gay marriage bill Wednesday, but lawmakers say they'll hold a special session next Wednesday.

“It's very painful,” Cesar Cigliuti, president of Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (Homosexual Community Argentina), told EL COMERCIO. “We had every confidence it would move forward. We felt we were going to live a historic moment. But we hope that next Wednesday we will make the initial approval.”

A polarizing tax debate elbowed out discussion of the gay marriage bill, which received the approval of a key committee two weeks ago.

In an interview with Ultimo Minuto, National Deputy Vilma Ibarra confirmed that the majority party had agreed to hear the bill next week.

Gay men and lesbians living in the rural villages of central Argentina often suffer greater discrimination when compared to city dwellers, Ibarra said: “The truth is that many people are heterosexual and homosexual living in different parts of the country and generally in the interior you will suffer triple discrimination.”

Several metropolitan cities – including the nation's capital of Buenos Aires – have approved civil unions for gay couples.

Last December, two men were married in the Argentine state of Tierra del Fuego after Governor Fabiana Rios issued a special decree. The wedding was originally scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires, but a national judge ordered a halt to the ceremony at the last minute, overruling a lower court's decision. Three more gay couples have since married.

The legality of the marriages, however, remain in doubt. Earlier this month, a magistrate declared the marriage of Alejandro Freyre and Jose Maria Di Bello – the first couple to marry – “nonexistent.” The couple has said they will appeal the ruling.

Legal recognition of gay unions is also gaining ground in other Latin American countries.

In March, a gay marriage law took effect in Mexico City, making it the first municipality in Latin America to approve such unions. Federal officials have appealed to the country's Supreme Court to strike down the measure. Uruguay recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

An overwhelming majority of Argentinians belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which could significantly influence the outcome of the upcoming debate on gay marriage. In a letter released last week, the church said that the state would be “in contradiction with its duties by altering the principles of natural law,” if it approved the bill.

If approved, Argentina would become the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage.