July 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombia high court holds same-sex marriage hearing
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The Colombian Supreme Court on July 30, 2015, held a public hearing on marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Colombia’s highest court on Thursday held a hearing on the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

Marcela Sánchez Buitrago, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, and representatives of the Colombian government testified in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians during the hearing that took place before the Colombian Constitutional Court.

“This norm establishes rights,” said Rodrigo Uprimny, director of the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society, a Colombian think tank.

Macarena Saez of American University Washington College of Law in D.C. said during the hearing the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Colombia causes “real pain for real families.”

“Marriage equality does not effect procreation, the institution of families nor freedom of religion,” she said. “When there is a violation of rights, it is not the majority who should be able to legislate.”

The hearing took place in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, less than five weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry throughout the United States.

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson, who submitted testimony in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Colombia ahead of the hearing, noted to the Washington Blade on Thursday during a telephone interview from New York that more than 70 American courts have ruled in favor of the issue. He said he feels the Colombian Constitutional Court should follow suit.

“It is the role of the Constitutional Court of Colombia, as it was the role of the Supreme Court of the United States, to act and end discrimination,” said Wolfson.

Opponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples also spoke during the hearing.

“A judge or registry is not violating fundamental rights when they refuse to register the marriage of a same-sex couple,” said Javier Suárez Pascagaza, president of the Husband and Wife Foundation.

A representative from the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBT group from the U.S. that has supported efforts against the repeal of colonial-era sodomy laws in Belize and Jamaica, also testified during the hearing.

U.S. among Western Hemisphere countries to allow same-sex marriage

Gays and lesbians are able to legally marry in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Mexico City and a growing number of Mexican states. Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in the Netherlands.

A law that will allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Chile is slated to take effect in October.

The Colombian Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled that same-sex couples could register their relationships in two years if lawmakers in the South American country did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

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Colombian lawmakers in 2013 killed a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry in their country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Colombian lawmakers subsequently defeated a bill that would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country. A handful of same-sex couples in Bogotá and other cities have nevertheless exchanged vows since the court’s deadline passed in June 2013.

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 year filed a brief with the Colombian Constitutional Court on behalf of two gay couples who challenged Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their unions.

Luz Stella Agray, A Bogotá judge who officiated the marriage of a lesbian couple whose union was also challenged by Ordóñez, is among those who testified in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples during Thursday’s hearing.

“No justification exists that says people of the same-sex couples cannot be a family because of a legal relationship,” said Agray.

Other supporters of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Colombia took to social media during and after the hearing.

The court is expected to announce its decision in the coming weeks.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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