For the bill to become law, it must still be sent to a committee vote at the House of Representatives before debate is allowed in the full House and, if approved, sent to conservative Colombian president Alvaro Uribe for his signature (House of Representatives president Alfredo Cuello has vowed to sink the bill before it reaches the floor but some conservative representatives have said they will buckle their leadership and support the bill they are allowed to vote on it).
If signed into law, "Proyecto 130" - as it's known - would allow a person to register his or her same-sex partner for social security and health benefit coverage under his or her plan; allow the same-sex couple to register a common ownership of belongings [derecho patrimonial]; and allow a surviving partner to inherit a deseased partner's pension benefits.
Although there is still a long legislative road ahead for the bill to become law, Colombian LGBT advocates are elated and celebrating the fact that this is the first time ever that a Colombian congressional branch has voted to recognize the rights of gays and lesbians.
Three previous efforts to protect the rights of same-sex couples through the legislature were either rejected or thrown out before legislative debate on technicalities. Sponsored by Senator Albaro Araujo, this new bill was pulled from obscurity when President Uribe shocked a college audience before the recent presidential elections by saying that, if re-elected president, he would sign such a bill (he also made it clear that he would never support gay marriage or adoptions by same-sex couples).
Tuesday's Senate vote had been re-scheduled from an earlier session in which opposing senators managed to push debate until the late hours, forcing the debate to be held on a new date and, once again, when 18 opposing senators simply walked out of the Senate to prevent quorum (in a move that the leading editorial force in Colombia, El Tiempo, called "pathetic" while urging the House of Representatives to also vote in favor of the bill).
Immediately after Uribe's surprise endorsement of certain rights for same-sex couples, some observers (like yours truly) were surprised by the initial silence from the Catholic religious leadership in Colombiam considering their vehement reaction to similar past efforts. More recently though, they had organized massive marches through the streets of Bogota against the bill and in protest of a recent ruling by the Colombian Supreme Court to relax Colombia's anti-abortion laws, until recently one of the strictest such laws in the world.
As in the past, the church enjoyed wide access to the Senate floor during the vote. LGBT advocates were able to get a copy of a glossy color 4-page brochure that was passed to Senators seeking to sway their vote against the bill. The scanned page, above, reads in part:
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 50% of men with AIDS have had sexual relations with an adult man before 16 years of age, and 20% before turning 10and
(Judith A. Reisman, American University) the number of homosexuals and the number of heterosexuals in the population (of the United States). The numbers indicate that 8 million girls were sexually abused before 18 years of age at the hands of heterosexual men; that is a ratio of 1 victim per 11 adult men. Nevertheless, 6.5 million children suffered abuses before 18 years of age by 1.2 million of adult homosexuals; this gives us a ratio of 3 to 5 victims per adult gay [male].The brochure, attributed to the Bogota-based Avivamiento World Center, urges Senators to "decide for themselves, what God and country demands of you." Colombian LGBT-rights group Colombia Diversa also has posted this page and this page showing some of the imagery used for the brochure (and claiming, in addition, that 22 to 60 percent of gays are pedophiles).
No surprise that on their site they link up to the US evangelical minister Oral Roberts (though the roots of the church are a bit more surprising than that and closer to the North East via Brazil).
So, a brief respite before the struggle goes on but, for once, Colombian LGBT advocates can take a moment and celebrate a historic accomplishment.
For the lastest, in Spanish, check out the Colombia Diversa website.
In the news: "Colombian Senate passes gay rights law" (uk.gay.com, Oct. 13, 2006)
- TV PSA on behalf of Colombian couples (Sept. 15, 2006)
- Staunch opponent to Colombian President Uribe offers tentative support on gay rights... and a warning (April 4, 2006)
- Colombia poised to become 1st Latin American country to offer benefits to same-sex couples (March 29, 2006)
- Colombian presidential candidate Antanas Mockus backs marriage for gays (March 28, 2006)
- LGBT rights front and center in Colombia's presidential race (March 27, 2006)
- An ex-president's son talks about coming out and Colombia Diversa (Dec. 11, 2005)