As cameras flashed and clicked and reporters stood on tip toes to get a look, Alberto González and Lorenzo Serrano arrived at the San José Family Court Wednesday morning to turn in their application for a domestic partnership.
“This is simply one step,” González said. “We’re going to keep fighting for more because we are Costa Rican citizens and, I stress, we have the same rights as any other citizen.”
After living together for six and a half years, the two young men were among the first to apply for same-sex domestic partnerships in Costa Rica. Other gay couples applied in Heredia, Desamparados, Cañas and Guadalupe, according to Marco Castillo, president of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization Diversity Movement.
Gay couples appeared at family courts one day after a group of Catholic bishops released a statement imploring judges, lawmakers and the president to quash any legal recognition of same-sex partnerships here.
While González said he saw today as a victory for LGBT rights in Costa Rica, Ana Cristina Binda, who applied for a domestic partnership with her partner of 10 years, Fiorella Burno, was more cautious.
“On one side, I’m happy because something is happening but on the other, I have reservations because until they approve this we can’t celebrate anything,” Binda told reporters today on the courthouse steps.
Couples had to present documents to verify their age, marital status and proof that they have lived together for at least three years to apply for the unions, Castillo said.
Domestic partnerships provide couples the right to establish shared property, inheritance, and hospital and prison visitation rights. Castillo said that domestic partnership applications for straight couples could take up to a year to process.
The Diversity Movement president said that four other same-sex couples had contacted him about applying for domestic partnerships.
Many critics believe these applications have little chance of passing in the courts, but the couples today were unbowed by the challenge.
“If no one does anything, then nothing will ever change,” Binda said.
Response to bishops’ letter
Both couples cited “religious fundamentalists” as the country’s greatest source of anti-gay sentiment and had strong words for the Catholic bishops’ open letter attacking legal recognition of same-sex unions penned by Bishop Óscar Fernandez of Puntarenas, president of the Episcopal Conference, an organization of Catholic bishops.
In the letter, Fernández appealed to all branches of government to “defend the constitutional principles governing Costa Ricans, namely, that marriage between a man and a woman is the essential foundation of the family – the natural and fundamental unit of society.”
In the same stroke as Fernández expressed his “profound respect” for homosexuals he wrote that there is no way the church can “approve of homosexual behavior nor the legalization of homosexual unions.”
“Who is the Episcopal Conference to say, ‘your rights don’t matter?’ Why do my rights have to be limited because of the religious beliefs of other people?” González asked.
Bruno, the president of Diverse Families, an LGBT family organization, opined that the Catholic Church’s stance on LGBT rights pushes people away, citing her own disconnection with the church, despite her spiritual beliefs.
Expressing her dismay with “perverse” anti-gay statements made by the out-going archbishop of San José, Hugo Barrantes, in an interview with the daily La Nación, Bruno said she hoped his replacement, José Rafael Quirós, would be more open to sexual diversity.
“I would tell him, listen, don’t let yourself get influenced by stereotypes; listen, there are many people who, despite being ‘diverse,’ have a vision of faith and religion that would be lovely to share with him.”