Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bolivia: New constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

An unpublished comment from an anonymous reader dated February 4th asks "Why no story on Bolivian voters voting last week for a constitution that outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?"

Short answer: Because I wanted to include one specific piece of information and kept looking for it with no luck... until today!

Here are the basics: Following similar efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Bolivian President Evo Morales won a huge political victory on January 25th when 61 percent of Bolivian voters voted in favor of adopting a new constitution.

The constitution, which goes into effect today, "promises more power for the poor, Indian majority; recognizes communal justice; grants some regional autonomy; and declares coca a part of the nation's heritage", according to an article posted today by the Associated Press.

It also allows Morales, the first Bolivian president of indigenous background, to run for a second term and to further establish a socialist vision for the country, even as it also leaves deeper divisions between those who backed the changes and does who did not.

LGBT community protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity: So, as the reader noted, there was more to the new constitution than the AP reports. Here is what it says under Article 14.II:
In the title 'Fundamental Rights and Guarantees': The State prohibits and punishes all form of discrimination founded on the basis of sex, skin color, gender, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, origin, culture, nationality, citizenship, language, religious beliefs, ideology, political or philosophical affiliation,
That, according to an article in El Deber comparing misleading arguments being made by the opposition to the actual constitutional text (the full document can be downloaded here).

Constitution defines marriage as that between a man and a woman: According to some reports, earlier versions of the constitution paved a way for the recognition of civil unions between same-sex partners. Instead, that language was dropped and replaced with Article 63 (an attempt to appease religious leaders who had complained):
I. Marriage between a woman and a man is constituted by legal ties and is based on equal rights and responsibilities between spouses; II. Free or common-law unions that meet conditions of stability and singularity, and be maintained between a woman and a man without legal impediment, will produce the same rights as a civil union, not only in the personal and patrimonial relationships between co-inhabitants, but also with respect to sons and daughters who are adopted or born from those partnerships.
To put it mildly, this did not appease religious leaders and, particularly, those on the right. Days before the vote, right wing religious leaders launched a predictable but nevertheless incredibly ugly attack on the proposed constitution.

The attack ad: I had read that the religious right had launched an incredibly offensive television ad as a last-ditch attempt to defeat the constitutional changes. It told believers that the new constitution would "throw God out of Bolivia" and that a vote against it would be a vote in favor of God. I searched for it on YouTube and elsewhere in vain but no luck... Until today! I've uploaded it on YouTube and posted it above.

I am struck by the imagery: A still from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" (which I have also seen widely used by local NYC Latino Evangelical leaders to whip-up resentment against gays and lesbians); Evo Morales shown in a traditional Indian costume which probably serves to inflame racist sentiments against indigenous cultures; what appears to be an image of a US-based couple kissing, which of course perpetuates the idea that homosexuality is being imported from elsewhere; an image of an aborted fetus which is a staple of those used by the religious-right in the United States; and, of course, an image of children holding the Cuban flag to tie it all up to Communism.

The AFP says that the ad was so offensive that it was banned by the country's independent electorate tribunal but that television stations who opposed approval of the constitution continued to run it until election date.

If you have read this blog in the past, you might be surprised that I am backing the constitutional changes in Bolivia. Then again, neither Morales not Ecuador's Correa are the egotistical maniacal figure represented by Venezuela's truly despicable Chavez (even as they follow his every step).

This is why socialism is capturing the hearts and minds of folk in Latin America (and why Chavez is so successfully in his quest to remain in power indefinitely): The political alternative is even worse! They champion discrimination against minorities, the worst sort of right-wing ideals, policies that discriminate against indigenous communities and, of course, anti-choice and anti-gay sentiments left and right. Heck! They are decrying that the additional anti-discrimination protections covering indigenous communities are an infringement on their freedoms! Their true fear? The new constitution establishes a separation of church and state for the first time ever in Bolivia which means that they have lost a certain grasp on the legislature.

I mean, considering what they are willing to do in the ad above and if you had a similar choice, wouldn't you back Evo as well?



libhom said...

This is wonderful. The US is falling behind so much of the world on queer issues.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. You say that the constitution's protections may not apply broadly, but it seems pretty clear to me. It says there is no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The quoted parts also say opposite-sex couples can get married, but don't exclude same-sex couples. What portion of the new constitution should we be concerned about?

Blabbeando said...

Randy, click on the UPDATE link to read more on how protections might not apply to tribal groups in the country. Basically, the constitution grants protections to Bolivians BUT also establishes a separate tribal justice system which applies to the different indigenous communities of Bolivia - and says that they are not beholden to the Bolivian constitution.

And, in rejecting claims that the constitution would open the doors to same-sex marriages, Evo Morales pointed at the fact that the clauses that define marriage and common-law partnerships have language that specifically defines them as being between "a man and a woman" as I have highlighted above.