Landmark Ruling Could Bring Marriage Equality Across Latin America

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that LGBT people should be free to live their lives without discrimination, a decision that seems set to bring marriage equality to Costa Rica — and potentially expand LGBT rights across Latin America.

The Washington Blade reports:

The seven judges who issued the ruling stated governments “must recognize and guarantee all the rights that are derived from a family bond between people of the same sex.” Six of the seven judges also agreed that it is necessary for governments “to guarantee access to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination.”

The court issued its ruling after the Costa Rican government in 2016 asked for an advisory opinion on whether it has an obligation to extend property rights to same-sex couples and allow transgender people to change their name and gender marker on identity documents.

In November of 1969, the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights took place in San José, Costa Rica, under which member states adopted the American Convention on Human Rights. In due time, member states established two central mechanisms by which to affirm and adjudicate the principles held in that Convention: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Both have jurisdiction over all member states that have ratified the Convention.

At this time, the Convention is recognized by Costa Rica and other 19 nations, including Barbados, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, to name just a few. Some of the member states, like Argentina, already allow same-sex marriage and recognize gender affirmation and gender identity protections — but many do not.

As such, this ruling should bring marriage equality to every member state that does not yet recognize it. And it may be used to advance further trans rights recognition — depending on how the ruling is read.

A victory that will manifest at different speeds

Costa Rica’s government has said that it will now explore the ruling, but the country greeted the court’s opinion warmly. Vice president Ana Helena Chacon told Reuters that the government will adopt the criteria totally, explaining: “The court … reminds all states on the continent, including ours, of their obligation and historical debt toward this population.”

Will other governments follow Costa Rica’s example? Some certainly will, but it’s more likely that each individual nation will examine this ruling through the prism of their current laws.

For example, Barbados doesn’t just ban same-gender marriage, but it also bans same-gender relationships entirely.

Technically, Barbados’ sodomy ban is already on unsafe ground due to a recent court ruling in Belize. However, there is a marked difference between legalizing same-gender conduct and protecting and affirming the rights of same-gender couples.

It seems unlikely that, on the back of this ruling alone, nations like Barbados would make such a dramatic swing toward equality. Even so, in recent years Barbados has made small steps to protect its LGBT citizens. While this ruling may not spark an overnight change, it could empower local campaigners to bring legal action that will drive change. And it may even provide the impetus for Barbados’ government to consider discrimination protections.

As the BBC highlights, the judges in this ruling gave specific mention to nations not yet ready to pass legislation, stating that governments are empowered to issue temporary executive orders to protect LGBT rights. This could be particularly useful in nations where there is a strong appetite for LGBT rights but where lawmakers are out of step with public opinion.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling, therefore, bolsters efforts across the Americas and provides yet more legal grounding for arguments in favor of equality. In terms of short term pay-off, it may be particularly useful for nations like Chile which are already debating and legislating around same-gender family rights.

Even though this ruling won’t precipitate immediate change, it serves as a landmark moment that should be celebrated.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Elaine W
Elaine Wyesterday

HOPE !! ;)

Chrissie R
Chrissie R2 days ago

Bravo! About time.

Janis K
Janis K2 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Leo C
Leo C3 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Lesa D
Lesa D3 days ago

thank you Steve...

Mia G
Mia G4 days ago

Thank you

Richard E Cooley

Thank you.

Janis K
Janis K4 days ago


Winn A
Winn Adams4 days ago


Winn A
Winn Adams4 days ago