Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last week publicly indicated his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Marriage between homosexuals to me is perfectly acceptable and what’s more I am defending unions that exist between two people of the same sex with the rights and all of the same privileges that this union should receive,” said Santos during a Google hangout the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo hosted on May 20. “If these unions are called marriage or not is secondary to me. For me it is important that they have their rights.”
Santos’ comments came during the final days of the campaign ahead of the first round of the South American country’s presidential election that took place on Sunday. They are also consistent with the Colombian Constitutional Court’s 2011 ruling that said same-sex couples could legally register their relationships in two years if lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.
“This government — and is also my personal conviction — supports the decisions of the Constitutional Court in terms of inheritance rights and recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people,” said Santos in a candidate questionnaire that Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, published on May 15. “We are and will be respectful of the judicial rulings and the independence of the branches of public power.”
“In this sense, we will work towards respecting the Constitutional Court’s rulings,” added the Colombian president. “It is important that these rulings are known and apply to all agents of the states and citizens so that they are respected without prejudices.”
Two of Santos’ challengers — Clara López of the Alternative Democratic Pole party and Enrique Peñalosa of the Green Alliance — had previously backed marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Santos will face former Finance Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga — who opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians — in a June 15 runoff.
“I respect the sexual inclination of people and their privacy, but I do not agree with marriage between partners of the same sex, nor adoption,” said Zuluaga in the Colombia Diversa questionnaire. “I agree that you should have a legal framework that respects inheritance rights, civil rights and social security for same-sex partners.”
Advocates criticize Santos during marriage debate
The Colombian Senate in April 2013 overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to the knot.
A handful of same-sex couples in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and other cities have exchanged vows since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed last June. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.
The Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law and the New York City Bar Association last month filed briefs with the Constitutional Court in a case brought by two gay couples challenging Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their marriages.
Colombia Diversa and other Colombian LGBT advocacy groups and activists have been critical of Santos’ administration for what they maintain is its silence during the same-sex marriage debate.
Dr. Zayuri Tibaduiza, an advisor to Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón, told the Washington Blade last May during an interview in Bogotá the government respects both the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the Senate’s vote against the same-sex marriage bill.
Neighboring Brazil is among the countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Uruguayan President José Mujica in 2010 and 2013 respectively signed their countries’ same-sex marriage bills into law. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last year publicly backed nuptials for gays and lesbians during her election campaign.
Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has also publicly supported the issue.