San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Obama: ‘LGBT community should be treated like everybody else’

U.S. President Barack Obama announced his support Friday for an addition to the new immigration bill that would recognize same-sex couples. The new provision, proposed by Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, would allow gay U.S. citizens to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for a green card. 

“I have said in the past that the LGBT community should be treated like everybody else,” Obama said Friday at a press conference at the National Cultural Center, in downtown San José. “That is to me the essential core idea behind our founding doctrines, the idea that we’re all created equal and that we’re equal before the law.”

Although Obama stated his support for the provision, he also noted that immigration reform is his main priority, and that compromises will need to be made.

“I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill,” Obama said. “Republicans are not going to get everything that they want from this bill.”

Obama’s comments came in the wake of widespread protests from LGBT groups across Costa Rica. Most recently, gay rights groups gathered during the May 1 Labor Day parade in hopes of opening dialogue about the issue. One group, the Diversity Movement of Costa Rica, sent a formal request to the U.S. Embassy to pass on a letter regarding gay rights to Obama during his visit.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla took a less firm stance on the issue, stating that LGBT rights need to be debated more within the country before any action will be taken.

“We cannot simply and easily transfer debates from one country to another,” Chinchilla said. “Every country has its own rhythm.”   

Chinchilla also said gay rights legislation is in the hands of the Congress and encouraged lawmakers to increase dialogue about the issues. 

While Chinchilla’s administration has said in the past it would support debate on a same-sex civil unions bill in the Legislative Assembly, that bill has gone nowhere, sitting at the bottom of the legislative agenda, to the ire of rights advocates.

The Catholic Church, which has heavy influence on lawmakers and the president, has openly vowed to fight passage of the bill.

Just eight blocks away from the press conference, a small group of LGBT activists had gathered outside of the National Theater hoping to greet Chinchilla and the other Central American presidents as they arrived for a meeting with Obama. The small crowd waved a rainbow flag and held a banner displaying the pictures of six of the region’s presidents.

“We are standing here waiting for the … leaders to deliver a message,” said Marco Castillo, president of the Diversity Movement of Costa Rica.  “We want them to recognize our rights.”

The group consisted of members of 12 different LGBT rights groups in Costa Rica and eight from the rest of Central America. In the crowd was Miss Gay Nicaragua, Dallas Hernández, wearing her crown.

Protesters from countries across the region had also descended on San José for the Central American Convention for Human Rights of Sexual Orientation, Identity and Expressions of Gender. While all other protests were contained outside of the secure area, the convention’s location at the Hotel Costa Rica allowed gay rights advocates to stand within viewing distance of the theater. 

Earlier that day, the convention had released an open letter to the Central American presidents with eight requests, among them the eradication of political persecution, integrated health care for gay families and work equality.

According to Castillo, the goal of the demonstration was to call attention to an issue that most Central American governments choose to ignore. 

The demonstrators had been quiet up to the point when Obama made his announcement at the press conference. Then they began to yell, “with Obama we can do it!”

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