In a landmark ruling, magistrates of Colombia’s Constitutional Court handed down their verdict: gay couples in Colombia are free to marry.
In an historic win for Colombia’s LGBT community, the nation’s high court ruled in a 6-3 decision Thursday that same-sex couples have a right to civil marriage.
“All human beings … have the fundamental right to be married with no discrimination,” stated magistrate Alberto Rojas
Over the past few months, justices heard testimony from more than 40 professors, legal experts, doctors and government officials in order to determine the legal status of four couples, three of which had already been granted civil marriages by Bogotá judges despite the fact that gay couples were not technically eligible to marry.
That confusion necessitated a high court ruling.
It was expected that the court would announce a verdict on marriage just weeks after the Court found that gay couples have a right to adopt children in November, but justices postponed the case saying they needed more time to consider it.
Colombia grants full marriage equality
Prior to Thursday’s court decision, gay Colombians could enter into civil unions, which carried essentially the same force as a marriage.
But partners had to prove that they had been in a relationship for a certain period of time before obtaining all of the legal benefits provided by a civil marriage, adding an extra layer of scrutiny not required of heterosexual couples.
The right to enter a civil union was itself the result of two previous Constitutional Court decisions.
In 2007, a high court decision determined that same-sex couples were families just like heterosexual couples, and should be protected under the nation’s constitution as such. Four years later, the Court ruled that Colombia’s national Congress must formalize those protections under the law.
Under that decision, Congress had until June 20, 2013 to create a legal framework for same-sex marriage or couples would automatically be allowed to enter into civil unions.
But Colombia’s legislature failed to take action by the deadline.
Rapid progress for gay rights
Despite that setback, Colombia can now count itself among the world’s most LGBT-friendly countries. Only 20 other nations have fully legalized gay marriage, including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in South America.
And Colombia’s progress on gay rights has been dramatic in a historically conservative and predominantly Catholic country. Just eight years ago, LGBT Colombians had essentially no legal rights or protections.
Today, openly gay men and women hold high political offices at the municipal, departmental and national levels. Transexual Colombians can freely and legally change their sex on their national ID cards. And gay couples can marry with the simple signature of a notary.
Indeed, the Constitutional Court has handed down one decision after another since it first extended the legal standing of Colombia’s LGBT community in 2007. When the Court heard arguments in the gay marriage case in July, the writing was already on the wall.
“No motive exists to justify the different treatment of heterosexual and homosexual couples,” said Justice Minister Yesid Reyes during the proceedings, according to El Tiempo.
Not the end of the fight
The nation’s Attorney General’s office, on the other hand, requested that the Court instead return the decision on same-sex marriage to Congress or a Constitutional Assembly.
Other politicians have been far harsher. After the Court granted gay couples the right to adopt earlier this month, Senator Viviane Morales proposed a referendum that would allow Colombians to vote on whether or not the decision would become law.
The referendum has little chance of making it to a vote but public opinion polls suggest the outcome might not be favorable for Colombia’s gay community.
A recent survey by the Universidad de la Sabana — which publicly opposes gay adoption — found that 70 percent of Bogotá residents opposed gay couples’ right to adopt. Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapproved of gay marriage.
A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that Uruguay was the only Latin American country in which a majority of citizens supported gay marriage.
In other words, no court decision will end the LGBT community’s struggle for equality.
But fortunately for gay Colombians, their legal rights have rested in the hands of the Constitutional Court rather than in the court of public opinion.
And on Thursday, they won another victory.