Friday, June 15, 2007

Colombia: Congress passes gay rights bill

Cool, the AP has the story so I don't have to do much translating this morning:
Colombia to become first in Latin America to recognize rights of gay couples
Friday, June 15, 2007

BOGOTA, Colombia: Colombia is set to become the first Latin American country to give established gay couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social security under a bill passed by its Congress.

The measure approved Thursday is expected to take effect soon. It is backed by the country's conservative President Alvaro Uribe.

The measure would allow gay couples in long-term relationships to have the same health insurance and social security benefits as heterosexual couples. It also guarantees that assets accumulated during the relationship will be divided between the two, and in the case of death, inherited by the survivor.

Previously, possessions were passed on to blood relations.

Some states and cities in Latin America have passed similar laws, but no other country in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic region has done so at a national level, said Marcela Sanchez, director of the gay rights group Colombia Diversa. She said as many as 300,000 gay couples in Colombia stand to benefit.

"I'm elated," said Catalina Gomez, an English teacher, who said she plans to use the new legal status to take out health insurance for her partner Monica, a self-employed designer and disc jockey. "It validates our union before the law so we no longer have to going around lying about our relationship."

Congress' lower house passed the bill 62-43 following a heated debate in which Alfredo Cuello Baute, the president of the chamber, accused gay lawmakers of a conflict of interest.

"I hope photos don't turn up showing some of our colleagues dressed as drag queens on Caracas Avenue," said Baute, referring to a nighttime cruising spot for transvestites and male prostitutes in Bogota.

Colombia's Senate passed a similar version in April. The two chambers must now agree on a unified text before sending it for Uribe's signature as early as next week.

"This is a victory that only a few months ago seemed unthinkable in this country," said pro-government Sen. Armando Benedetti, one of the bill's sponsors. "To my surprise, the Congress has shown itself to be a modern, responsible and liberal institution."

Colombia's Constitutional Court recognized similar rights to shared property and inheritance in a February ruling, but that decision did not deal with health insurance or social security.

While homosexuality is still taboo in much of Latin America, there has been increasing acceptance in many areas. Mexico City and the Mexican state of Coahuila recently joined the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires and the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul in legalizing same-sex civil unions.

Opponents of the measure and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church said they feared the Colombian law may open the way to gay marriage and gay adoption. But activists say their campaign is focused for now on obtaining practical benefits.

"Now people will have no choice but to accept we exist and have the same rights as straight couples," said Jose Luis Bautista, 36, who has been living with his partner Jaime for 15 years.

A more comprehensive report, in Spanish, over at El Tiempo which says that the version passed by Congress still needs to be reconciled with the version that the Colombian senate approved last year.

The vote came on the last days of the current congressional session and was in danger of being swept under the rug.

Previously, on Blabbeando...


Junk Thief said...

First Spain, now Colombia and Buenos Aires. Perhaps this will be a lesson to Republican conservatives when making reference to "backwards Latin American nations." Backwards? Uh, that would be the U.S. I'm ready to move to Colombia. My husband would be better looking than what I'd find here.

John Sabini said...

Congratulations, Columbia. I had the pleasure of meeting President Uribe last week.

Andrés Duque said...

Thanks for stopping by Blabbeando, Senator Sabini! It's definitely a watershed moment for gay rights in Colombia.