Colombia: A Step Back for Gay Marriage


May 19, 2013 04:54 EDT

A campaign against discrimination has been launched by gay activists in Colombia. Denying civil rights to a specific group in society, resembles the struggle against anti-Semitism and the African-American civil rights movement.

In 2005, the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in Spain approved gay marriage. The big question was whether the approval was going to be the small landslide that would cause the avalanche in Latin America, the stronghold of the Catholic Church. December 2009 saw Mexico City become the first city in Latin America to approve gay marriage; although, this approval does not apply for all states in the country. The leading step taken by Mexico City motivated gay activists across the continent in the quest for their right to marry.

Argentina, in July 2010, became the first country in Latin America to recognize gay marriage. Other countries at the time, including Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia, had presented law proposals to their senates. In April 2013, Uruguay approved a law recognizing gay marriage with a vast majority of 71 out of the 92 members of parliament approving the measure. Four federal states of Brazil have also recognized the right to gay marriage.

This year started with the approval of gay marriage in France, New Zealand and Uruguay. Colombia was in line to approve gay marriage, and for the last week of April 2013, the political and religious struggle shook the country to its core.

The Gay Population in Colombia

According to several NGO estimates, nearly 8% of Colombia's population is gay, despite a strong Christian majority in the country.

Homosexuality was recognized as a crime in Colombia until 1936. Since then, the country has taken significant strides toward the recognition of gay rights. These steps include recognition since 2007 by the Constitutional Court, the right to inherit assets, and the right to receive life insurance and retirement money. 

In Colombia, gay couples can currently register their union. Although, they cannot adopt as a couple, nor can their union be considered a formal marriage. Gay Colombians cannot be discriminated against, cannot be fired from their job for their sexuality, and have the right to keep the custody of their children, among other recognized rights of the civil code.

Arguments in Favor

With the support of the Constitutional Court, the gay marriage movement has appealed to the constitutional principles of pluralism (Article 1), diversity (Article 7), and the measures to promote equality (Article 13). The court has been positively affirmed in their recognition of gay families in society, and has valued that nucleus on the same level as heterosexual families.

According to many experts, not recognizing gay marriage goes against human rights, which universally recognizes the right to have a family, regardless of the family’s sexual orientation.

Denying civil rights to a specific part of the population resembles the struggle against anti-Semitism and the call for equal rights by the African American population. A campaign against a new version of “apartheid” has been started among gay activists to counter the declarations of the Colombian Catholic Church and Senator Gerlein, who referred to gay sex as excremental. Both the church and Senator Gerlein started a campaign to keep the concept of family as heterosexual-only and the values it represents. This argument was also the basis against divorce, which was approved in Colombia and ratified in the 1991 constitution, even if the church proscribed it as adultery.

However, over 20 years later, the concept of family in Colombia has kept its values, and there has been no social chaos or collapse of the traditions of Colombian society.

Is the Struggle Over?

After 51 votes against 17 in favor, the project was temporally dismissed. However, the Constitutional Court established in the C57 sentence of 2011, that if by July 20, 2013, there was no legal recognition by Congress, gay couples would be able to register their union through a contract in any judge’s office. 

Being able to sign a contract starting July 20, does not mean the “union statement” is recognized as equal to the heterosexual marriage. For several gay activists, having a separate contract for their union is just as discriminating. This measure is a huge step back in a country that was a leader in promoting equality for their gay population. This legal defeat just means that a process that has taken years to progress will have to be restarted and could last many more years.

Gay activists have sounded a call to flood all legal offices with marriage requests starting July 20. The political defeat must not make us forget that the legal trend is still open, thanks to the Constitutional Court.

Despite this setback, the call for gay rights is still on its way and the struggle continues in other countries like Peru and Venezuela. Hopefully, the avalanche will soon make its effect in Colombia and its medieval segregationist mentality.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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