Costa Rica’s Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) announced Thursday that it received petitions containing a sufficient number of valid signatures to require a nationwide referendum on legalizing civil unions for homosexual couples.
In order for an issue to be subjected to a referendum, the TSE must receive at least 136,750 signatures, which represents 5 percent of registered voters. As of Thursday, the TSE had received over 150,000.
However, the decision on whether to hold the referendum remains in the hands of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV). In early July, the Sala IV announced it would review complaints over the constitutionality of holding a referendum on civil unions for homosexuals. Opponents of the referendum among the gay community argue that issues involving what they consider basic constitutional rights should not be subjected to a popular vote.
“This is not about permitting marriages, this is about giving us equal rights,” Abelardo Araya, president of the Diversity Movement, told The Tico Times. “There is a large gay community in the country and its members are denied the rights given to married heterosexuals simply because of sexual preference. There are very clear laws guaranteeing equal rights to citizens.”
Should the Sala IV permit a referendum, it would likely be held on Dec. 5, the same day as the national mayoral elections. However, as that date nears, there is concern that ample time will not be granted to prepare for the referendum vote. By law, the TSE must announce the date of the referendum at least three months prior to its being held.
If the TSE holds a referendum after Dec. 5, the process of organizing a new voting date could cost an estimated ¢2.5 billion ($5 million).
“I feel the number one priority for the TSE now will be to save money,” Araya said on Friday. “It is now a race against time and they are going to want to limit expenses. If there is a referendum and the TSE hurries to get it done, I feel like that will be such a terrible insult to civil rights in this country.”
Last week, the Supreme Court of Mexico legalized homosexual civil unions and marriages throughout the country. Last month, the Argentinean legislature voted to permit gay civil unions and gay marriages in that country.