Gay Marriage Goes to Court in Colombia

Published: May 27, 2013

It’s getting better in Latin America. In recent years, advocacy campaigns on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals have paved the way for legislation and judicial decisions that limit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. At the core of the fight is the question of rights for same-sex couples, including civil unions, domestic partnerships, and marriage. Already, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil have recognized same-sex couples’ right to form domestic partnerships and civil unions, and Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico City, and some Brazilian states have legalized same-sex marriage.

It hasn’t been easy, of course. Every advance in LGBT rights has met significant resistance from conservative political parties and religious groups — the Catholic Church, in particular. The church, whose influence is unrivaled throughout Latin America, has systematically opposed all legal claims or reforms pushed by gay-rights activists across the continent. Pope Francis, when he was still a cardinal in Argentina, fiercely opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in his country, and, according to The New York Times, went so far as to call the initiative a “destructive attack on God’s plans.” Catholic Church leaders have reacted similarly in Ecuador, Mexico, and Brazil.

The struggle between LGBT rights activists and religious groups is now coming to a head in Colombia, whose congress just rejected a bill that would have made same-sex marriage legal but where a court decision may ultimately have the final word. It took years of successful litigation before the Constitutional Court to establish equal rights on several grounds for LGBT Colombians, and that court could, sooner or later, make Colombia the fifth Latin American country where same-sex marriage is legal.

The fact that the initial bill in congress failed — and that a similar one is unlikely to be introduced anytime soon — illustrates that, in Colombia, as in many places, the most progressive reforms come from the courtroom. That, in turn, fuels concerns about the judiciary overstepping its bounds.

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