Costa Rica's Chinchilla says she will not veto bill that opens door to same-sex unions

Just days after lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizers kicked off a national campaign for marriage equality in Costa Rica, sexual diversity advocates here are celebrating a bizarre series of events in their favor.

After legislators “accidentally” passed a law that includes language that could open a path to same-sex civil unions in the Central American country, President Laura Chinchilla said on Wednesday that she would not veto it, as some lawmakers have urged. 

“No, we’re going to go forward and will sign this law. We understand that the debate is over how some interpret the law and this alone is not sufficient for the executive to veto the law,” Chinchilla told reporters, according to a video posted by AmeliaRueda.com.

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The president added that the only members of government equipped to interpret the law are judges and lawmakers.

Communications Minister Carlos Roverssi confirmed the president’s statement, according to the daily La Nación.

On Monday, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly passed the Law of Young People, which included a new version of the Family Code that recognizes the right to a common-law marriage “without discrimination against to human dignity.” Article 242 of Costa Rica’s Family Code defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The modification of the Young People Law – if ruled constitutional by the country’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court – would strike language defining unions specifically as that between a man and woman.

Supporters and many opponents believe the new language opens the legal possibility of same-sex unions. 

In the past, Chinchilla has been lukewarm on her support for same-sex unions.  In 2011, she said that she would not oppose the legalization of gay marriage in Costa Rica, but stopped short of a full endorsement, saying that it was not part of her “national agenda.”

In a meandering response to a reporter’s question about if and when she would support gay rights during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit in early May, Chinchilla said, “I hope and trust that the debate truly can become much more balanced and more mature, without stigmatization and without disqualifications, and that, finally, will generate a decision in the Congress of the Republic.” 

On Sunday, organizers with the Front for Equal Rights launched a national campaign for marriage equality, demanding full marital and family rights for LGBT couples in Costa Rica. According to the group’s Facebook page, they collected more than 2,000 signatures in support of the bill.

Past bills to legalize civil unions and common-law marriage between same-sex couples have languished in the legislature. Marco Castillo, president of the Diversity Movement, told The Tico Times last week that “religious fundamentalist” deputies and a lack of political will were the biggest hurdles to passing LGBT rights and protections in Costa Rica. 

Costa Rica would be the first country in Central America to approve same-sex civil unions if the provision’s legal interpretation holds up in court.