SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The mayor of El Salvador’s capital talked about marriage equality in his country during a visit to D.C. earlier this month.
El Tiempo Latino, a Spanish-language newspaper in D.C., asked Ernesto Muyshondt about the issue during an Oct. 2 interview.
Muyshondt said he is not reluctant to talk about it within his Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) party. Muyshondt nevertheless called out ultra-conservatives and other ARENA members who do not want to support the issue, especially given they put it and abortion on the same line with the LGBTI community’s rights.
“I think that these issues can be debated openly; we have to respect the rights of other people,” declared the San Salvador mayor. “The right to life is the main human right and I think that ARENA should be a pro-life party. From there the freedom of every person to live their sexual orientation and preference, etc., should also be respected.”
LGBTI activists in El Salvador, for their part, have welcomed Muyshondt’s comments.
“We have heard over the last few months a very important position on his part in relation to respect and people’s dignity and respect for making free decisions. And in this case, he has been very sincere and open to talking about the right to decide in relation to his reference to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community,” William Hernández, director of Asociación Entre Amigos, told the Washington Blade.
Hernández also said Muyshondt’s office supported San Salvador’s annual Pride parade this year.
“The mayor’s office was represented, even though he could not attend,” said Hernández. “He issued permits and the mayor’s office allowed the event to take place.”
“To have people like Mayor Muyshondt talk about civil marriage equality is already a great step forward, because the issue has been tied to a party that has been historically ultra-conservative for years,” Karla Guevara, executive director of Colectivo Alejandría, told the Blade. “We know there are still many people who resist the recognition of LGBTI people’s rights, especially marriage equality for gay and lesbians as with the issue of a gender identity law for trans men and women.”
Muyshondt over the last few months has not been the only one among ARENA’s who has declared themselves in favor of the LGBTI community. Josué Godoy, a member of El Salvador’s National Assembly who represents Santa Ana department, has also shown himself to be open to the issue.
“Assemblyman Godoy, as with the mayor, has shown interest in the issue of sexual and reproductive health, the issue of rights for the LGBTI community, the protection of women who have complications while pregnant,” Hernández told the Blade. “He has not been as close-minded as the mayor has shown.”
The aforementioned comment is because of the rest of Muyshondt’s comments in D.C. with respect to abortion, which he feels needs to remain firm. El Salvador is one of the three countries in the world that imposes long prison sentences to women who have spontaneous or accidental abortions.
“It is very important to me that Mayor Muyshondt is willing to be on board with the issue of marriage equality and talk about defending life, but it is contradictory that he will not refer to the protection of women and girls’ right to life due to obstetric complications,” Alejandra Burgos, coordinator of the Salvadoran Network of Human Rights Defenders, which has also been following a marriage equality lawsuit, told the Blade.
“LGBTI people face daily violations of the right to life in a country where women’s right to live free of violence is not a reality, even though it is the law,” Burgos told the Blade. “It seems to me that his party cannot defend actual lives, without assuming its responsibility to protect and defend the lives of girls, women and LGBTI people in El Salvador.
Despite the contradictory comments that can be made inside ARENA with respect to these issues; some LGBTI organizations and human rights activists are celebrating the posture towards marriage equality that some of the right-wing party’s aforementioned members have. These human rights activists at the same time recognize it is not an issue of political parties, but rather a constitutional one that can provide guarantees in order to extend rights to a community, like the LGBTI community, that has been historically excluded.
“It is an issue that is now in the public sphere and we hope that it will not be an issue that will be ignored like the gender identity law has been in the past, for example,” Guevara told the Blade. “To talk about human rights is not a setback in the country. This could put El Salvador in an important level of development in the eyes of the world.”