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Bolivia may be getting closer to allowing same-sex marriage

Bolivia may be getting closer to allowing same-sex marriage

  • What happens next may be crucial in how fast Bolivia moves on marriage equality.
La Paz, Bolivia.

A court has struck down a ruling by officials in Bolivia that blocked a same-sex couple from registering their union.

Now Bolivian LGBT+ campaigners are waiting to see how the Civic Registry Service (Serecí) will react to the ruling.

The judgment in favor of the couple comes from a relatively junior court –  The Second Constitutional Chamber of the La Paz Court of Justice.

However the court recognized the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling in favor of marriage equality.

That ruling has already contributed to same-sex marriage becoming law in Ecuador last year and Costa Rica in May this year.

The Serecí may try to contest the ruling.

Alternatively it may see if the judges are happy with it offering ‘unions’ to same-sex couples, but not marriage rights. It could then ask the Bolivian government to put ‘unions’ in place, potentially delaying the country moving to full marriage equality.

However, judges may eventually decide they are not satisfied with anything less than full marriage equality. That means implementing the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision from 2017 in full. That could help pressure Bolivia to act on that ruling.

Inter-American Court ruling is supporting same-sex marriage

The Inter-American Court is the senior court for 20 countries.

And LGBT+ campaigners say its decision from 2017 – published in January 2018 – could eventually change marriage laws in all of them.

Of the court’s member countries, only Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Costa Rica have marriage equality so far.

But the ruling also applies to Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Suriname.

The case in the city of La Paz involves a same-sex couple who have lived together for 10 years.

But the Serecí blocked them from registering their relationship in 2019. So they contested the decision.

The two members of the Second Constitutional Chamber court said the decision by the Serecí national director, Diego Tejerina, went against the human rights of the couple.

States are obliged to ‘recognize family ties’

Notably, the court recognized that Bolivia must obey international rulings on human rights.

Bolivia’s Constitution states that ‘international treaties and instruments in the field of human rights that have been signed, ratified or to which the State has adhered, that declare more favorable rights to those contained in the Constitution, will be applied preferentially over it’.

Following that logic, same-sex marriage is ‘more favorable’ than its current laws. Meanwhile, Bolivia has to obey rulings from the Inter-American Court over and above its own constitution. Therefore, Bolivia should provide marriage equality.

Moreover the court said:

‘It is not [our] role to distinguish the worth that one family bond has from another. However, this court considers that it is the obligation of the states to recognize these family ties and protect them according to the Convention.’

Therefore, human rights lawyer Guido Ibargüen, involved in the case, said the Serecí must now draft a new resolution. And it must take the Inter-American Court’s ruling into account.

However, the court stopped short of mentioning full marriage equality in their ruling. 

All the same, it does keep the possibility of same-sex marriage alive in Bolivia. Meanwhile, Chile, Peru and Panama all appear to be making slow progress to equal marriage.