The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) ruled Jan. 9 that all member states, including Costa Rica, must recognize same-sex marriage, and endow those unions with the same rights that heterosexual couples enjoy. However, on Jan. 20, Costa Rica’s Superior Notary Council prohibited its members to carry out same-sex marriages until there’s a legislative reform in Costa Rica.
That didn’t stop a Colombian-Costa Rican couple who were married in March 2016 in Colombia and now reside in Costa Rica from heading to the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) to register their marriage abroad. They’re hoping for a positive result after previous attempts were rejected by Costa Rican authorities.
Manuel Abarca, a Costa Rican psychologist, and Sergio Montealegre, a Colombian business manager, have long been linked with social causes and activism, mostly focused on the LGBTI community.
Abarca works with civil organizations on the topics of sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI communities; as for Montealegre, he has worked for the Humanist Institute for the Cooperation of Developing Countries (HIVOS) since 2015, where he leads a project focused on Costa Rica. Like Abarca, Montealegre works on the issues sexual rights, HIV and diversity in Latin America.
Abarca and Montealegre met in Costa Rica, brought together by their common work interests.
“My previous job required travel through Central America, and on one of those trips I met Manuel here,” Montealegre recalled. “Some time afterwards we saw each other again, and that’s where our relationship started. One day I told him we should get married, but it obviously had to be in Colombia. It was an ongoing debate over there… until 2016, when the Constitutional Court determines that same-sex marriage is legal in Colombia.”
They married in Colombia in 2015, both in a civil service and in the Anglican Church.
“I’m Anglican; the Anglican Communion is very broad. The [Anglican Church] in Colombia is very open to LGBTI. Within their concept, if the [same-sex] marriage is established or legalized in the country, that also applies to Anglican marriage,” Montealegre said.
“An Anglican bishop married us in Colombia, so we had a civil and a religious marriage,” Abarca told The Tico Times.
Following their wedding, the couple, now residing in Costa Rica, tried to register their marriage here. Costa Rican authorities denied their request, citing a “lack of jurisprudence” on gay marriage.
Following the Inter-American Court ruling this month, they went back to the TSE for another attempt.
“We tried to register it here [before] and they didn’t even receive our papers, but just the other day they did receive them,” Montealegre said.
The fact that they are legally married abroad has allowed the couple to enjoy some of the rights of a heterosexual couple in Costa Rica.
“For example, the loan for our house is for family income… in an eventual medical appointment with the Caja, we have not had any rejection. At the bank we haven’t had any rejection either as in a public space,” Abarca said.
“Even before the Inter-American Court’s resolution, the systems have, bit by bit, been adjusting to a process in a natural way that transcends other rights,” Montealegre told The Tico Times with a smile.
Throughout this process, human rights lawyer Larissa Arroyo has been accompanying te couple.
“In Costa Rica the paperwork had not been accepted… and that’s really serious,” Arroyo told The Tico Times in a phone interview. She explained that the new ruling “makes the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) receive the documentation to examine it and determine if it can effectively be registered.”
She said that while institutions such as the Superior Notary Council may continue to create obstacles for marriage equality, she feels confident the country will make progress on this topic.
“It’ll take some time to adjust, but I’m sure we’ve taken a step forward,” she said. “Once these rights for LGBTI people have been recognized, there’s no way to go backwards. What we have to do is wait and work on the mechanisms to access these rights that have finally been recognized for LGBTI people.”
For Abarca and Montealegre, this is a topic that transcends any religious belief and is merely a matter of basic human rights.
“This transcends religious norms. We hope that people understand that it’s a matter of rights. Human rights. Civil rights,” Montealgre said.
When the couple’s papers were accepted by the TSE on Jan. 18, officials told the couple the registration process will take a month, as usual, and that the couple will be informed via email.
What will that resolution be? Only time will tell. Stay tuned.