Even though same-sex couples in Colombia will be able to legally register their relationships on Friday, it remains unclear whether some notaries and even judges will allow them to do so.
The country’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled gays and lesbians can legally register their relationships after June 20 if lawmakers failed to extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage. The Colombian Senate in April overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed same-sex couples to tie the knot in the South American country.
Marcela Sánchez Buitrago, executive director of Colombia Diversa, an LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Monday that some notaries have already said they will not marry same-sex couples after the court’s deadline passes. They would instead allow them to enter into a “solemn contract” that is similar to an agreement between two people who buy a house together.
“This in the view of Colombia Diversa does not comply with the Constitutional Court’s order,” Sánchez said.
Colombia Diversa and other LGBT advocacy groups are advising couples who encounter a notary or a judge who refuses to allow them to register their relationships–or enter into a civil marriage as Sánchez and other activists have described it–to petition a court to reverse the decision. Lina Cuéllar, director of Sentiido, an LGBT website she co-publishes in Bogotá, the country’s capital, told the Blade she expects some notaries and judges will accommodate gays and lesbians in the same way they treat heterosexual couples.
She said they will follow the court’s order, but it remains unclear how exactly they will interpret it.
“It is difficult to state concretely what is going to happen after June 20,” Cuéllar told the Blade.
Argentina is among the 12 countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
Brazilian lawmakers have yet to consider a nationwide same-sex marriage bill in spite of a ruling from the country’s National Council of Justice last month that said registrars in the South American nation cannot deny marriage licenses to gay couples.
The U.S. Supreme Court later this month will issue rulings on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Advocates remain critical of government’s response to marriage debate
Dr. Zayuri Tibaduiza, an advisor to Vice President Angelino Garzón, told the Blade during an interview last month at her Bogotá office the Colombian government respects both the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the Senate’s vote against the same-sex marriage bill. Advocates remain critical of President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration for what they maintain is its continued silence on the issue.
“There is a general discontent on how the government managed the situation, since they could have legislated on this topic,” Cuéllar said. “They instead waited until the Constitutional Court’s deadline when nothing could have been done.”
Even though she said one can describe the tribunal’s ruling as “ambiguous,” Sánchez told the Blade it did not explicitly deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
“As of June 20, we are going to put this interpretation to the test,” she said. “We hope it will hold up because it is the one that recognizes equality for couples.”
Laura, a transgender woman who works at the Sebastián Romero LGBT Community Center in the Teusaquillo area of Bogotá that is named in honor of the first openly gay person elected to political office in Colombia told the Blade last month many people have what she described as a “limited understanding” of the same-sex marriage debate.
She noted during the same interview that anti-trans discrimination, homelessness and general mistreatment of LGBT people on the streets are among the problems that she and her colleagues continue to confront.
A report that Colombia Diversa released last month indicates 58 of the reported 280 LGBT Colombians who were murdered between 2011-2012 were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women (REDLACTRANS) noted in a separate report that 61 Colombian trans women have been reported murdered between 2005-2011.
“There are those who are definitely not interested in the (same-sex marriage campaign,) but simply want to gain their rights,” Laura said.
Opposition to same-sex marriage remains strong in Colombia, but Cuéllar said the “equality for all” message that came from the campaign in support of the issue has had a positive effect.
“A lot of allies have joined the cause,” Cuéllar said. “This has helped to widen the scope of what equality means in a country like Colombia.”