November 6, 2017 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Same-sex marriage conference to take place in Costa Rica

Evan Wolfson

Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, is among those who are expected to participate in a same-sex marriage conference this week in Costa Rica. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Activists from across the Western Hemisphere will gather in Costa Rica this week for the first of its kind conference that will focus on marriage rights for same-sex couples in Latin America.

The Civil Marriage Equality Congress is scheduled to officially begin in San José, the Costa Rican capital, on Wednesday afternoon with a forum at the University of Costa Rica. A screening of “The Freedom to Marry” — a documentary that features Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, and the lead-up to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples throughout the U.S. — will take place at a local theater a few hours later.

The conference itself will take place at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights on Thursday and Friday. The Costa Rica Supreme Court will host conference attendees on Friday afternoon.

Herman Duarte of Fundación Igualitos, a Costa Rica-based group that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples throughout Latin America, organized the conference alongside his law firm, Hduarte-Lex that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the Costa Rican advocacy groups Acceder and Asociación Costarricense de Derecho Internacional.

Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón and Wolfson are among those who are expected to take part in the conference. The U.S. and Canadian Embassies in Costa Rica, the U.N., the Costa Rican government and LGBT advocacy groups from across Latin America have co-sponsored it.

“The main goal is to open the debate around equal access to the civil institution of marriage,” said Duarte in a press release.

The Financial Times on Oct. 25 announced Duarte, a lawyer who was born in El Salvador, is among its top 50 future LGBT leaders. He is the first person from Central America to be included in the list.

Same-sex marriage gaining ground in Latin America

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in the U.S., Canada, Mexico City and several Mexican states, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. The governments of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in the Netherlands.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in August introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in her country. The Panamanian Supreme Court over the summer heard oral arguments in a case that would allow gays and lesbians to legally marry.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Panamanian First Lady Lorena Castillo are among the prominent Latin American politicians and officials who support the issue. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues as director of her country’s National Center for Sexual Education, has also publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Cuban activists who work independently of Mariela Castro and her organization, which is known by the acronym CENESEX, in recent years have sought to promote the issue on the Communist island. Neither Mariela Castro nor CENESEX have publicly commented on these efforts.

Editor’s note: Michael K. Lavers is scheduled to speak at the conference on Friday.

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

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