Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Colombia poised to be 1st Latin American country to offer benefits to same-sex couples

No, it's not a civil union or civil marriage bill and, no, it will not provide gays the right to adopt, but after President Alvaro Uribe's surprise response to a question posed by gay activist Mauricio Albarracin on Saturday at a presidential campaign stop (Uribe is running for re-election), Colombia is poised to become the first country in Latin America to provide nation-wide access to social security benefits as well as inheritance rights to same-sex couples.

Buenos Aires became the first city in Latin America to approve a limited civil unions law in 2002 (a version of which was later adapted and approved by the Argentinean province of Rio Negro - for a description of the law go here). Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico City have seen civil union bills reach their respective legislative bodies only to fail. But this would be the first time that a Latin American country would proactively seek to expand benefits for same-sex couples with the support of its president.

On Monday, I wrote that, in answering to a question about his support for civil rights for the LGBT community, President Uribe said: "First topic, marriage, no; second topic, adoption, no; proprietary / inheritance rights [derecho patrimonial], yes; social security, yes" as reported by El Tiempo.

The paper also reported that Uribe would move on the social security issue "immediately" and begin to draft legislation to address inheritance rights gradually.

Today, El Tiempo reports that a bill submitted in December in the Colombian Senate by Senator Alvaro Araujo would now move forward with the support of other legislators and government officials. Yesterday, Senator Flor Gnecco said that she would approve it for debate so that a first hearing could be held next week and the Minister of Social Protection said that his office would also endorse the bill. "In the last few months the Ministry of Social Protection has been working with the [national LGBT rights association] Colombia Diversa Foundation, studying the issue of social security [benefits] for gay partners and agrees that it is viable, possible and desirable to extend coverage to these persons. We will support Senator Araujo's bill" [today Colombian LGBT activists that I contacted and are close to the proceedings disputed the assertion that Colombia Diversa was working closely with the government and said that the extent of their collaboration was to submit a cost analysis at the government's request].

The article says that such swift movement was seen as possible not only due to the President's backing but because "the thesis of legalizing gay marriage and gay adoptions have been abandoned."

According to El Tiempo, "The new law would allow the following: That when a member of a gay partnership dies, his/her partner will have access to his/her partner's belongings; that when they separate, belongings will be divided according to the law; that if one partner loses his/her job, the person can become affiliated to their partner's health system without having to pay a double affiliation [fees]; and that in the case one of the partners dies, the survivor can enjoy pension benefits" (the paper goes on to do a cost analysis of the impact of the law, if approved).

Additionally, the paper reports that there might be some changes to the implementation of pension benefits in light of Uribe's comments that the country was not ready to assume the fiscal burden at this time but would do so gradually.

In the past, wunderkind Colombian attorney German Humberto Rincon Perfetti (who has also been involved with past attempts to bring a civil union bill for a vote) had been successful in having courts rule in favor of partners fighting for the right to their deceased same-sex partner's belongings but those were case by case rulings and did not necessarily extend to same-sex couples nationwide. This law would change this (over the last few years, Colombian courts have ruled in favor of gay people joining the military and the Colombian arm of the Boy Scouts; the right for same-sex partners of incarcerated persons to have conjugal visits; among other rulings).

In today's article, Mr. Rincon Perfetti is asked about the sudden legislative movement in favor of these rights and he argues that it's not necessarily a sudeen shift and says that the moment has been made possible due to gains going back to 1980 when homosexuality between men was depenalized and the approval of a new constitution in 1991 which allowed for the incremental gains that has brough the issue to this point.

Responses from other presidential candidates has been varied with Antanas Mockus and Carlos Gaviria saying that they would support same-sex marriage and leading contender Horacio Serpa (a distant second in the polls) saying he won't comment on the issue. The President has refused to participate in any presidential debate where these positions can be aired out.

Some mysteries remain:
  • Even if it is a presidential election year, why the turn around when Uribe publicly opposed some of the same rights when a civil union bill was introduced by Senator Piedad Cordoba in 2003?
  • Why are conservative elements of the Catholic church in Colombia suddenly silent when they were so voiciferous, virulently homophobic and active in their push to defeat the Cordoba bill?
  • If changes to the current Senate bill can include eliminating pension benefits from the current language, might they also ad language specifically banning future efforts to pass same-sex civil union or civil marriage bills?

4 comments:

Tarheelhombre said...

I am not certain, but I thought Brazil's high court extended pension benefits and inheritance rights to gays in the late 1990's.

Tarheelhombre said...

Inheritance Rights Grants
BRAZIL - Brazil's highest court granted a gay man inheritance rights from his partner in a landmark ruling in Brazil. The Supreme Court voted unanimously in favour of businessman Milton Alves Pedrosa, whose partner died in 1989 from an AIDS-related illness. "A judge today cannot ignore that two people of the same sex became involved," Supreme Court Judge Ruy Rosado said in an explanatory statement.

(Brother Sister No. 152 19 February 1998 page 6)

Tarheelhombre said...

Wikipedia says:

At the natinal level, since 1998, many rights have been given to same-sex couples as a result of court decisions. These rights cover matters such as inheritance, immigration, and state pension and welfare benefits. Brasil allows homosexual couples the right to inherit each other's pension and social security benefits. Homosexual Brazilians who can prove that theirs is a "stable union" will be treated by the National Social Security Institute no differently than a married couple in cases of retirement or death. The policy also allows people in same-sex relationships to declare their partners as dependents on income tax returns. The National Social Security Institute's policy change is the result of a recent court ruling. Allows foreign partners of its homosexual citizenry to receive residency permits.

On July 12, 2005 a Sao Paulo, Brazil, judge ruled that same-sex couples can adopt children. It is believed the case is the first in Brazil where a gay couple has been allowed to jointly adopt a child.

Joao Gilberto Gonclaves, a prosecutor, has filed a lawsuit charging the country's prohibition of same-sex marriage as being opposed to the 1988 constitution. The latter outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A court ruling is expected later in 2005.

Two bills that are already in Congress will be discussed: same-sex civil unions and a constitutional amendment criminalizing acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul legalised civil unions after a court decision in March 2004. Same-sex couples in committed relationships can register at any notary public office. Although it does not affect federal rights, it gives same-sex couples more equality in many areas. Same-sex couples who register have the right to jointly own property, establish custody of children, and claim the right to pensions and property when one partner dies.

The state of Rio de Janeiro gives same-sex partner benefits to government employees.

Andrés Duque said...

I could be wrong but I believe that these rulings either apply to individual couples who sought benefits through the court or municipal rulings that apply to certain cities and not necessarily the country as a whole (just as is the case with Argentina). If anyone has information other than this, I would much appreciate it if they shared it with us. Thanks.