San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Referendum initiative on gay unions awaits go-ahead


The controversy over the recognition of same-sex civil unions in Costa Rica is heating up.
In the upcoming days, the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) will announce whether it has received petitions with enough valid signatures to force a referendum on the issue of civil unions for gay couples on Dec. 5, the same day that nationwide municipal elections will be held.
According to the TSE, the civil rights and HIV/AIDS awareness organization Citizen Observatory was required to present petitions with the signatures of over 136,750 voters, or 5 percent of the voting population, prior to June 15 in order for the issue to qualify to appear on the ballot.
As the TSE tallies the signatures, advocates and opponents of civil unions have become increasingly vocal. In early June, the Ombudswoman’s Office released a statement questioning the wisdom and legality of subjecting an issue of constitutional rights of a segment of the population to a popular vote.
Meanwhile, the daily La Nación quoted TSE President Luis Antonio Sobrado as saying the referendum would not present problems of constitutionality because it would address the issue of expanding, not restricting, fundamental rights of citizens.
The Diversity Movement, a citizens’ group that supports civil unions, has held several activities to voice the necessity of civil unions, and denounce the denial of equal rights to gay couples under existing laws.
“This is not about permitting marriages, this is about giving us equal rights,” Abelardo Araya, president of the Diversity Movement, told The Tico Times. “There is a large gay community in the country and they are denied the rights given to married heterosexuals simply because of sexual preference. There are very clear laws guaranteeing equal rights to citizens and we think that approving civil unions will ensure that everyone can enjoy the same set of benefits.”
Several widely-supported groups, including religious groups, oppose same-sex civil unions.
If the TSE announces that a sufficient number of valid signatures have been received, the vote will go ahead, becoming the second referendum in the nation’s history after the 2007 poll on CAFTA. If the referendum is approved, Costa Rica would become the first country in Central America to recognize same-sex civil unions. Such civil unions are recognized in several other Latin American countries, including Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay. Earlier this year, Mexico was the first Latin American country to allow same sex marriages.
“It’s important to note that in the strongest democracies in the world, this has been a popularly discussed theme,” said Costa Rica’s foreign minister, René Castro, earlier this month. “We will not be the first democracy, or the last, that will make a decision of this nature. I think that we live in a country with a sufficiently mature democracy to be able to conduct a discussion of this nature in a rational manner.”
See the June 25 print or digital edition of The Tico Times for more on this story.

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