San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

LGBT community presses Chinchilla on bills

It was all about love, respect and legislation outside the front gates of Casa Presidencial on Valentine’s Day, when members of Costa Rica’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community turned out to protest for equal rights in this conservative, Catholic country.

But President Laura Chinchilla’s administration remained noncommittal regarding legislation the demonstrators had hoped to see brought before the Legislative Assembly in coming months.

“We are delivering a letter to Laura Chinchilla, the president of our country, asking her to please present in special sessions [of Congress] two bills that regulate the rights of the LGBT community,” said Juan Pablo Cambronero, a signatory to the letter and protest organizer. “Both bills were debated last year, and they didn’t advance to the plenary session, so now, the only one who has the power to say something is [Chinchilla].”

One of the bills would extend marriage benefits to any couples, gay or straight, after three years of cohabitation. It is essentially a common-law marriage bill blind to the sexual orientation of couples.

The second bill aims to extend the privileges of married couples, including insurance and pension benefits, to same-sex couples. It would not redefine marriage or attempt to win adoption rights for same-sex couples.

“This is about advancing as a country on the historical commitment we’ve made to the defense and recognition of human rights. The country has to live up to this commitment,” said Carmen Muñoz, a legislator from the Citizen’s Action Party who attended the rally.

The demonstration included kisses en masse, performances, song and dance. Organizers met around midday with Presidency Vice Minister Francisco Marín – not Chinchilla – to present their letter.

“What we are hoping for is recognition that we are people who should be recognized by the government of Costa Rica, and that the government should not, through its discourses, promote hate towards the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender community,” said Paulina Torres, a spokeswoman for the event, after presenting the letter to Marín. “We know that in Congress it is a long, slow process for all bills, but at least we hope the central government will not promote this kind of discourse. We will be waiting and listening to what is going to be said in Casa Presidencial about us.”

A statement issued by the Presidency Ministry after the meeting, however, indicated that the protester’s bills would not be discussed during this year’s special sessions.

The statement read, in part: “The Executive branch is respectful of the debate that has opened up in the country around this topic, and will continue to call on different sectors so that the discussion moves forward without stigmatization or insults. … The Executive branch since the beginning has established with total clarity the items of special urgency to be discussed during special sessions. During the present period, we have established priorities for fiscal reform, a traffic bill and a smoking bill, among others.”

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