June 21, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombian same-sex couples seek legal recognition

Colombia, Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

The Colombian Senate (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Same-sex couples in Colombia on Thursday began to seek legal recognition of their relationships amid lingering confusion over whether they can now marry in the South American nation.

Gays and lesbians approached notaries and judges across the country with the hope they would be able to enter into a civil marriage. These include three same-sex couples who submitted paperwork to a municipal civil court in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, seeking the ability to tie the knot.

“There are many couples like us in this country who have found their relationships have reached the point of committing themselves in civil marriage,” Elizabeth Castillo, who has been with her partner, Claudia Zea for four years, said during a press conference outside the court. “For gay people to marry is an act of valor.”

“We are very happy that Colombia considers everyone equal,” Carlos Rivera told Caracol Televisión after he and his partner Gonzalo Ruíz filed their paperwork in the same Bogotá court.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled gays and lesbians can legally register their relationships on June 20 if the country’s 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.

It remains unclear whether gays and lesbians can actually tie the knot in Colombia because the court’s ruling did not contain the word “marriage.” The judges instead said same-sex couples could go before a notary or a judge to “formalize and solemnize their contractual link.”

The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo on Thursday reported that Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre Lynett said notaries and judges are free to interpret the court’s decision because there is no law that specifically addresses the issue of relationship recognition. Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez Maldonado and other Colombian officials have said the 2011 ruling did not extend the possibility of marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Some notaries had said before the June 20 deadline that they would not marry same-sex couples, but rather allow them to enter into a “solemn contract” that is similar to an agreement into which two people enter when they buy a house together.

Caracol Televisión interviewed a gay man in Cali earlier on Thursday who said the notary he and his partner approached offered them a “solemn contract” because he claimed he could not marry them.

“This in the view of Colombia Diversa does not comply with the Constitutional Court’s order,” Marcela Sánchez Buitrago, executive director of Colombia Diversa, an LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade on Tuesday.

Colombia Diversa has advised same-sex couples who are denied a civil marriage to challenge the decision in court.

Historic day for Colombian LGBT rights advocates

In spite of lingering questions over how to interpret the court’s decision, LGBT rights advocates described Thursday as a historic day in Colombia.

“Congratulations to all those who took part in this fight for marriage equality in Colombia,” Colombia Diversa said in a Tweet earlier in the day.

Rivera described the arrival of the court’s deadline to Caracol Televisión as “the first step.”

Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT advocacy group that works in cities along Colombia’s Caribbean coastline, told the Blade the fight for nuptials for gays and lesbians in the country will continue.

“They (notaries and judges) are proposing a ‘solemn contract’ and we are not,” he said. “We are only accepting marriage.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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