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Landmark ruling OKs marriage, trans rights in Americas
by Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade
2018-01-17

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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, on Jan. 9, issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights in the Western Hemisphere.

The seven judges who issued the ruling stated governments "must recognize and guarantee all the rights that are derived from a family bond between people of the same sex." Six of the seven judges also agreed that it is necessary for governments "to guarantee access to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination."

The court issued its ruling after the Costa Rican government in 2016 asked for an advisory opinion on whether it has an obligation to extend property rights to same-sex couples and allow transgender people to change their name and gender marker on identity documents.

The ruling says the Costa Rican government must allow trans people to legally change their name and gender marker on official documents.

It does not specifically say how Costa Rica should extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacon, on Jan. 9, nevertheless told reporters during a press conference in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose that her government will do so.

"The executive branch will focus on studying the resolution in depth," she said as La Nacion, a Costa Rican newspaper, reported.

The Organization of American States created the Costa Rica-based court in 1979 in order to enforce provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The Jan. 9 ruling is legally binding in Costa Rica and 19 other countries—Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay—throughout the Americas that currently recognize the convention.

Margarita Salas, a Costa Rican LGBT-rights advocate who is a candidate for the country's National Assembly—described the ruling to the Washington Blade as an "enormous advance in human rights for Costa Rica."

"Now more than ever it is imperative that the National Assembly pass bills that make access to marriage equality and the recognition of gender identity a reality," she said.

Ruling to bolster regional LGBT advocacy efforts

Barbados along with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, are among the countries in the Western Hemisphere in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The court's ruling nevertheless coincides with the continued expansion of marriage rights for gays and lesbians throughout the region.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in the U.S., Canada, Mexico City and several Mexican states, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. The governments of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten recognize same-sex marriages that are performed in the Netherlands.

Outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, last August, introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The Panamanian Supreme Court in the summer of 2016 heard oral arguments in a case that would allow gays and lesbians to legally marry.

Chacon is among those who spoke at a conference in Costa Rica last November that drew same-sex marriage advocates from the U.S. and across Latin America. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President RaÚl Castro, are among the prominent politicians and officials in the region who have publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, a lawyer who has represented same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in Mexico, told the Blade on Tuesday the ruling bolsters advocates' efforts across Latin America.

"With this decision we have more elements to start a sustained effort in support of legislative change in favor of marriage equality in all of the countries that comprise the inter-American system," he said.

Bachelet's government in 2016 said it would introduce a same-sex marriage and adoption bill as part of an agreement it reached with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean advocacy group that filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in the country.

Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera takes office in March. The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, on Jan. 9, said his government is legally bound to Tuesday's decision.

"It means that if the next government does not promote marriage equality as the state promised in the amicable agreement signed by our organization, the state will be sanctioned by the court," said the group in a press release.

Read the entire article on the ruling at WindyCityMediaGroup.com .


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