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Costa Rica legalises same-sex marriage in landmark first for Central America

In a historic first for the region of Central America, Costa Rica has equalised its marriage legislation.

With the new law coming into effect at midnight, Alexandra Quiros and Dunia Araya were the first same-sex couple to marry in Costa Rica. The lesbian couple tied the knot In the early hours of Tuesday morning (26 May 2020) in a ceremony that was broadcast live on national TV.

Speaking on Twitter, Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada wrote:

“Today, Costa Rica officially recognizes same-sex marriage…Today we celebrate liberty, equality and our democratic institutions. May empathy and love be the compass that guide us forward and allow us to move forward and build a country that has room for everyone.”

The country’s first openly gay member of parliament, Enrique Sánchez, welcomed the change and praised all those who had spent years campaigning for the same-sex ban to be lifted.

Mr. Sánchez said of these campaigners:

“With their experience, their struggles… they have helped build a society where there are no second-class families or second-rate people,”

The reform is the culmination of a process that began in 2016, when Costa Rica asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to interpret the scope of the rights to privacy, the right to a name, and the right to equal protection of the laws under the American Convention on Human Rights.

In its request, Costa Rica noted that protection of rights relating to sexual rights and gender identity vary significantly across countries of the Organization of American States (OAS); the regional group that brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.

Same-sex marriage is already possible in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and some parts of Mexico, but was up until now illegal in all Central American countries.

In a landmark 2017 opinion, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stated that all rights applicable to heterosexual couples should extend to same-sex couples.

In August 2018, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court, responding to this decision, declared that the country’s current ban on same-sex weddings was unconstitutional and discrimatory. It gave Costa Rica’s parliament 18 months to change the law, or have the ruling recognising same-sex marriages automatically go into effect once the deadline expired.

LGBTQ organisations across the world have been quick to applaud the move.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World) said:

“Costa Rica is celebrating today: marriage equality has become a reality in the country – the first one in Central America!…We rejoice with you: congratulations to all those who worked so hard to make it happen!”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also cheered the decision, though added the caveat that more work is needed to achieve marriage equality around the world. Alphonso David, President of HRC said in a statement:

“Costa Rica’s LGBTQ community has worked tirelessly for years to make today a reality. This victory is theirs, and it inspires the entire global LGBTQ community to continue fighting to move equality forward.”

The reform has not been universally popular in Costa Rica however, with some religious groups and more than 20 lawmakers in the country actively opposing the move. These same actors have attempted to stifle and delay the change in law at various points in the process.

Ultimately, today is a day to celebrate progression. Costa rica becomes the 29th country around the world to provide access to marriage for same-sex couples. One can only hope that they serve as an example to their Central American neighbours and this change spurs on further advancements of marriage equality rights in the region.

This is also a victory for human rights law and its institutions. In its 2016 request to the Inter-American Court – and its dedication to upholding the court’s opinion – Costa Rica has exemplified how a commitment to international human rights principles can enhance human rights in practice; A demonstration that will hinder discrimination and enhance the dignity of all LGBTQ citizens living in the country.

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