As Costa Ricans parade their patriotism this month in celebration of the Sept. 15 Independence Day holiday, the country’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual activists are rallying around a proposed law they say would be an important first step in guaranteeing them equal rights.
The proposed Law of Civil Union for Same-Sex Couples would guarantee these couples the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples, including the right for one partner to receive Social Security benefits through his or her partner’s employer, the right to visit one another in the hospital and the responsibility to share earnings.
“This bill would bring equal rights to a group of citizens that so far has had all the responsibilities and obligations that come with being Costa Rican, but none of the rights,” said Abelardo Araya, president of Diversity Movement, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group. “Costa Rica promotes itself to the outside world as a country that respects human rights and democracy, but in reality there are two classes of citizens here – gay and straight.”
In May, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ruled against gay marriage in response to a lawsuit filed by Costa Rican lawyer Yashin Castrillo, who wanted to marry his partner (TT, May 26).
In their ruling, high court justices called for the creation of a legal framework for same-sex couples.
This ruling shows that a law to protect gay couples is entirely within reach, Araya said.
“It won’t be the end-all, but it will be a first step toward protecting our rights,” he
The bill has the support of at least three legislators from three parties: Ana Helena Chacón, of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC); Alberto Salom, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and José Luis Merino, of the Broad Front Party.
These three convened at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in San Pedro, east of San José, Sept. 7 for a roundtable discussion, one of several events held that week to spark discussion of gay rights in Costa Rica.
Each remarked on why they have chosen to support the bill.
“As politicians, we have the responsibility to defend the rights of groups that are socially discriminated against and to take on the fights that are necessary,” Chacón said, adding that people have asked her why a woman belonging to her party, known for its close ties to the Catholic Church, would support the bill.
“I tell them that respecting individual differences is part of social peace; gay people are just as Costa Rican as any other Costa Rican,” she said.
Meanwhile, Salom said he has personal motives for supporting equality for same-sex couples, a stance that hasn’t been popular among some of his fellow Citizen Action members.
A close relative who was gay died of AIDS, leaving Salom with “a strong commitment to his memory.”
These legislators plan to submit the bill to the Legislative Assembly by the end of this month, said Rebecca Araya, advisor to Ana Helena Chacón. But first, clauses must be modified that address laws that would have to be changed if civil unions were legal. These include the Immigration Law, the Civil Code, the Penal Code and reforms to the Civil Registry, she explained.
In addition to the Diversity Movement and these legislators’ efforts, another activist has sought equal rights using other means. Alberto Cabezas said he realized the need to recognize gays’ rights while serving on the Young People’s Consultation Network under the Presidency of Abel Pacheco.
Last month, he petitioned the board of the Social Security System (Caja) to consider making gay partners eligible for Caja health benefits through their partner’s employer. The board denied his request.
Spreading the Word
As legislators and their advisors revise the bill’s language, the Diversity Movement is trying to spread the word about the need for equal rights.
Sept. 4-8 was a week filled with activities planned by the Diversity Movement that centered around the visit of David Montero, a Spanish activist with the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals (FELGT).
During a press conference Sept. 4, Montero talked about Spain’s successful results from its 2005 same-sex marriage law, which has allowed about 5,000 couples to marry.
The law “has made 10,000 people happy without harming anyone or taking anything away from anyone,” Montero said.
“And we all know that happy people are generally more productive, creative citizens.”
Other talks and presentations were also planned at UCR during the week, but they had a disappointing turnout, Araya said.
He and others posted flyers all over the campus prior to the events, only to find them ripped down the next day. Araya said he suspects “ultraconservative groups” were the culprits.
However, about half the seats were full in the university’s General Studies auditorium during the roundtable discussion with the three legislators.
Laura Delgado, a UCR student of Communications, was among those who attended.
“This (the civil union bill) interests me because I’m studying the defense of minority groups,” said Delgado, 19. “In a country so small and so conservative, it has to be us young people that try to defend human rights.”
Political science student William Alvarez also attended with his partner, who, like many gay citizens, did not wish to identify himself (see separate article).
Alvarez said the bill stems from “a need to recognize basic human rights.”
Asked if he would enter into a civil union if it were legal, he said he would “consider it the way any heterosexual couple would consider marriage when they reach the right stage in their lives.”
“I doubt it (the bill) will be passed this year, but maybe sometime in the future,” Alvarez said. “I have hope.”