- They are using COVID-19 as an excuse to delay – but they have already had 18 months.
Lawmakers in Costa Rica have made a last ditch effort to block the country introducing marriage equality on 26 May.
However their efforts looked doomed to failure and LGBT+ campaigners are counting down the days until same-sex marriage is illegal.
The change has already been years in the making.
Back in November 2017, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that all of its signatory countries must allow same-sex marriage. This includes Costa Rica.
Then in August 2018, Costa Rica’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled it was against the constitution to block same-sex marriage.
That November, the Supreme Court justices gave the country’s Legislative Assembly 18 months to act. And 26 May marks that deadline – meaning the court’s ruling automatically overturns the ban, making marriage equality a reality.
COVID-19 excuse for another 18 month delay
Despite this, 26 deputies surprised the country this week by asking for another extension.
They want to delay marriage equality for ‘a minimum of 18 months’ after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislators argue that the coronavirus crisis has taken up their focus, meaning they haven’t had enough enough time to prepare for same-sex marriage.
However their delaying tactics look set to fail.
The lawmakers come from the Social Christian Unity Party, New Republic Bloc, National Restoration Party and some of the National Liberation Party. But they do not hold a majority in the Legislative Assembly.
Moreover, Fabián Volio, a constitutional lawyer, told La República that their request unconstitutional. He explained:
‘Congress cannot interfere with the judiciary in any way, so equal marriage will be a reality at the end of the established term.’
Furthermore, Costa Rica’s Ombudsman’s Office confirms his view. It said: ‘Same-sex marriage is an unquestionable reality. The legal discussion is a thing of the past; today Costa Rica is obligated to accomplish it.’
Political support for same-sex marriage
Meanwhile LGBT+ groups have warned any step back or delay on the issue would be a new human rights violation. Moreover, they branded the tactics ‘a last minute excuse to stop a decision already made’.
They said the deputies should focus on trying to repair the economy after the pandemic, rather than undermine rights.
Indeed, Costa Rica’s citizens have already settled the debate too.
The Central American country’s April 2018 presidential election became a kind of referendum on marriage equality.
Evangelical Christian Fabricio Alvarado candidate soared in the polls by arguing against the Inter-American Court’s decision. However, while the polls looked close, marriage-equality supporter Carlos Alvarado won the election by 61% to 39%.
President Alvarado referred to the lawmakers’ latest actions on Twitter.
He said: ‘I do not hide that today I feel sadness. We need more than ever to move forward in union and not fuel divisions. We must protect people’s health, public finances, and human rights.’
Meanwhile José Maria Villata, a deputy of the left-wing Broad Front Party, said:
‘The motion that seeks to delay equal marriage was presented behind the back of the citizens, taking advantage of the fact that people cannot demonstrate.
‘It is incredible that in the midst of a pandemic, valuable resources are wasted for a disastrous purpose such as preventing the protection of a right.’
14 more countries covered by court ruling
So it seems same-sex couples Costa Rica will almost certainly have access to marriage from 26 May. They will also win the right to adopt jointly and to adopt each other’s children from previous relationships.
It rules: ‘States must ensure full access to all the mechanisms that exist in their domestic laws, including the right to marriage, to ensure the protection of the rights of families formed by same-sex couples, without discrimination in relation to those that are formed by heterosexual couples.’
Moreover, the court says religious objections cannot trump equality.
The court said at the time: ‘In democratic societies, there should exist mutually peaceful coexistence between the secular and the religious’ with neither interfering with the other.
Of the court’s member countries, only Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay already have marriage equality. Costa Rica will bring that number up to six.
But the ruling also applies to Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Suriname.
Of those, the most advanced is arguably Mexico which has marriage equality in 18 of its 31 states and in the capital, Mexico City.
The ruling is binding on all member countries, however it is not clear how long it will take them to follow Costa Rica.