After three years in legal limbo, Colombia’s Constitional Court ruled 6-3 that same-sex couples have a right to legally marry.
Colombia’s highest court has given the green light to gay marriage in the conservative, mostly Roman Catholic country.
Colombia could become the fourth Latin American nation to fully allow same-sex marriage. Only a handful of nations in Latin America allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
Gay couples in Colombia were already allowed to form civil unions, with many benefits of marriage including inheritance, pensions and health benefits. But the symbolically important right to wed was something that so far has been denied.
On Thursday, the Constitutional Court took a giant step in settling the controversy, rejecting by a 6-3 vote a justice’s opinion that would have prevented public notaries from registering the unions as marriages. In the coming weeks, a new ruling reflecting the majority opinion that such practice is discriminatory is expected to be approved, legalizing same-sex marriage.
Constitutional Court magistrate Alberto Rojas, who voted against the proposed ruling and will now write up the majority decision making gay marriage legal, said: “All human beings … have the fundamental right to be married with no discrimination.”
A small group of marriage equality activists celebrated on the steps of the court, chanting: “Yes sir, I will get married because here in Colombia the law now allows me to.”
Legislator Angelica Lozano said that with the legal dispute near resolution Colombia’s gay community must now focus on ending discrimination.
“Today we’ve won our constitutional rights, now we need to fight on the streets and inside people’s homes,” she said.
A 2011 constitutional court ruling in Colombia recognized same-sex couples as families and ordered the congress to pass a law that would afford gay couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples. If lawmakers failed to pass a law by June 2013, by default gay couples could “formalise” their unions before notaries and judges.
But the court’s language was vague, and left many people in limbo. Many were told that they could not be married but they could enter into a “solemn contract”.
“We are super happy,” said Luís Felipe Rodríguez, a gay rights activist in Cali who challenged the court’s 2011 ruling. “This is a victory against all the conservative political parties, against the Catholic church and everyone who tried to block our rights.”
Alejandro Ordóñez, Colombia’s ultra conservative inspector general, lamented the court’s decision, saying: “Today … marriage is no longer marriage and family is no longer family.”
Brian Silva, director of Marriage Equality, a US-based group, said the Colombian court decision was “great for the Colombian people but even greater for people around the world still fighting for marriage equality”.
In a survey conducted by a Bogota university found that 70% of Bogotá residents opposed gay couples’ right to adopt, while 57% disapproved of gay marriage.
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