Senators initially approved Maite Oronoz Rodríguez’s nomination in a voice vote, but they debated it after Sens. María de Lourdes Santiago and Larry Seilhamer made the request as as the newspaper el Nuevo Día reported. They ultimately approved Oronoz’s nomination by a 16-10 vote margin.
“The constitution says that the dignity of the human being is inviolable; we are all equal under the law,” said Senate President Eduardo Bhatía. “We have the ability to build a democracy where everyone is equal under the law.”
“The most important things are her professional qualifications, the historic nature of her nomination and her work as a lawyer,” added Sen. Tony Fas Alzamora.
Former Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz is among the six senators who opposed Orodoz’s nomination.
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla earlier this month nominated Oronoz to fill a vacancy on the court.
Oronoz’s partner, Gina Méndez Miró, is Bhatía’s chief-of-staff.
“I applaud her for this recognition,” said García in a statement after the Senate approved Oronoz’s nomination. “I echo my words from when I nominated her: She is an example of what this new generation can offer to Puerto Rico.”
Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, also applauded Oronoz.
“We celebrate this historic step,” he said.
Dr. José Toro Alfonso, a faculty member of the University of Puerto Rico Department of Psychology who advocates on behalf of LGBT Puerto Ricans and those living with HIV/AIDS, also praised the senators who backed Oronoz’s nomination.
“It is a great advance for justice in Puerto Rico and an extraordinary triumph for the gay community,” Toro told the Washington Blade.
Oronoz’s nomination is the latest milestone for LGBT Puerto Ricans since García took office in January 2013.
The Democrat has thus far signed four pro-LGBT bills into law. These include measures banning anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. commonwealth and adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s domestic violence law.
A lesbian couple from San Juan in March filed a federal lawsuit seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in Puerto Rico.
García supports civil unions for gays and lesbians, but he has yet to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Anti-LGBT violence and the Puerto Rico Police Department’s response to it continue to cause concern among the island’s advocates. They also remain critical of San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, Rev. Wanda Rolón and other religious leaders who continue to oppose efforts to expand rights to LGBT Puerto Ricans.
“Even with the openly opposition of the fundamentalist religions, including the archbishop of San Juan and some of the minority senators, this confirmation represents the right direction for human rights in our island,” Toro told the Blade.