Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ruled Tuesday, Aug. 10 that a planned public referendum on same-sex civil unions is illegal.
In a 5-2 vote, the judges ruled that the bill for unions between people of the same sex is not appropriate subject matter for a popular vote, and must be left in the hands of the country’s legislators.
Magistrates decided that the right to establish civil unions between homosexual couples is a fundamental human right protected by international treaties approved by the country, and therefore cannot be submitted to a popular vote.
“In summary, the court considered that submitting the rights of a minority to the judgment of the majority deepens and aggravates discrimination against the minority,” the court announced in a communiqué issued late that same day.
The decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Elections Tribunal’s (TSE) announcement last week that enough valid signatures had been received in support of a referendum vote on the issue. Over 150,000 signatures were received in support of a referendum, which exceeded the mandatory 136,750 needed to bring the decision to a vote. The referendum vote was expected to be held Dec. 5, the same day as national mayoral elections. “The announcement by the court allows us to focus on the Dec. 5 municipal elections,” said Luis Antonio Sobrado, TSE president.
“It is clear that the subject of civil unions of the same sex will be an issue decided by the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly.”
The issue of same-sex civil unions will now be moved to the Legislative Assembly, where legislators will decide whether or not to approve a law to provide rights for such unions. Since the announcement of the Sala IV’s decision, two political parties, the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and the Libertarian Movement Party (ML), have voiced their support for the court’s ruling.
“This decision brings us hope that the day will come in Costa Rica where there will be a level playing field for human rights and minority groups,” said Carmen Muñoz, a PAC legislator. “This is a day that all the minority groups in the country should celebrate, not only (homosexuals), but all the groups that defend and demand the recognition of their rights, even when they contradict the opinionof the majority of the population.”
The proposed law would give same-sex civil unions the same rights recognized for heterosexual couples, such as inheritance in case of death or injury; financial rights such as shared accounts; shared trust and property; and health benefits such as shared insurance policies.
The ruling has resulted both in celebration and disapproval across the country. Abelardo Araya, president of the Diversity Movement, which headed the efforts against the referendum, has pushed for the approval same-sex civil unions since 2008, but strongly opposed the referendum.
“Obviously we are very happy and this is a milestone day for our community,” Araya told The Tico Times. “But above all, we are happy to see that we have been recognized as equals, and that there is a national consciousness that opposes discrimination.”
Araya said that while members of the homosexual community are celebrating the court’s decision, they would continue to gather support to assure the bill recognizing gay unions is approved in the Legislative Assembly.
Members of the Diversity Movement are planning to meet with the Ombudswoman’s Office to jointly encourage the Legislative Assembly to address the issue in the near future. The Ombudswoman’s Office has expressed its support of civil unions for homosexual couples on several occasions.
“The law is far down the list of priorities of the Legislative Assembly,” Araya said. “We want to remain very active until some action is taken.”
Araya also said that he has arranged for María Rachid, president of the Argentina Federation of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, to speak in Costa Rica in late September. Rachid and her organization were instrumental in pushing for the approval of homosexual marriages by the Argentinean legislature in July.
Father Mauricio Granados, a spokesman for the Catholic Church, did not return calls from The Tico Times. However, he has said in the past that such “preferential” treatment for gay unions contradicts Catholic doctrine and the Costa Rican Constitution. The Church does not recognize unions other than those between a man and a woman (TT, June 25).
An estimated 90 to 95 percent of Costa Ricans claim to be Roman Catholic, the country’s official religion according to the Costa Rican Constitution.