Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that same-sex couples should be allowed access to equal marriage rights, giving the Legislature until June 20, 2013, to take up the matter and pass formal recognition of gay unions. If Congress doesn’t, the court said, same-sex couples will be allowed to go before a judge and have their unions formalized in this manner instead.
The court ruled that homosexual partners currently lack certain rights afforded to heterosexual partners and instructed Congress to pass a remedy through “comprehensive, systematic, and orderly legislation” by June 20, 2013 to address the imbalance. If Congress does not pass legislation in that time, homosexual couples will be permitted to go before a notary or a court to have their partnership recognized.
Reactions to the court’s decision were mixed among the Colombian LBGT community. Many gay Colombians were pleased that the court had insisted that they had a right to some form of union, but were dismayed that the court had sent the issue back to Congress.
Many news reports have suggested that this ruling effectively legalizes gay marriage. Indeed, the ruling would imply this but the court, in punting enforcement back to the Legislature, appears to have given lawmakers room to create marriage-equivalent unions (at least in legal terms) without having to take up same-sex marriage directly. This would appear a more likely outcome than legalizing full marriage equality given the strong level of resistance from certain groups.
Prior to the court’s decision, Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Methodist, and Colombian Evangelical churches lobbied the court against recognizing same-sex partnership rights.
Congress has on several occasions routinely defeated same-sex partnership legislation, and while some liberal legislators seem keen to recognize gay unions as a fulfillment of the law’s equal rights mandate, conservative legislators contend the law as it stands is clear that marriage must be between a man and a woman.
The Congress appears split on the issue, according to the news site Colombia Reports.“The constitution is clear in arguing that marriage is between a man and a woman, not same-sex,” said Juan Manuel Corzo, the conservative chairman of the Senate. Liberal Party director Rafael Prado, though, noted that while many religious groups oppose marriage equality, “the church is the church, but political decisions and rights are issues that we in politics have an obligation to address. We defend those rights and it is clear that same-sex couples should have equal [rights].”
If Colombia was to grant full marriage equality, it would be the second country in South America to do so after Argentina. Several Latin American nations have already legalized some form of partnership recognition however, and a handful are also now considering same-sex marriage legislation.