Saturday, May 23, 2009

Colombia: Policeman's partner receives health benefits

Speaking about police institutions in Latin America and gay officers: On Thursday, May 14th, Colombia's El Tiempo reported that the country's National Police Board of Health had granted health benefits coverage to a same-sex partner of one of its officers (as it does to married partners of heterosexual couples).

Colombia Reports filed a story. Here is an excerpt:
Fabián Mauricio Chibcha Romero became the first homosexual partner of a policeman to receive benefits from the police service since Colombia's Constitutional Court granted equal civil, political, social and economic rights to gay couples in January.

Chibcha Romero's partner, a 28 year old policeman who prefers not to be named, has served in the police force for 8 years. The couple first applied for health benefits, for which the partners of heterosexual policemen are eligible, on January 11. Their application was denied. They applied again in February, following the Constitutional Court's ruling and were accepted.
Chibcha tells El Tiempo that the decision also means that he will enjoy access to private clubs set up for the recreation of police officers and their families during their vacations and to housing subsidies provided by the police department.

On Monday, the couple received additional media attention when they announced that they had cemented their 4-year relationship through a religious ceremony at a church in Bogotá.

The AFP reports that the ceremony was conducted by members of the Missionary Community of San Pablo, which they describe as an organization formed by Catholic priests which is now considered to be a dissident organization from the teachings of the Vatican.

Chibcha called it "a dream come true" and stated "We had the opportunity to become partners before the law, and now we did it before God."

Long time (and exiled) Colombian LGBT rights advocate Manuel Velandia, writing from Spain in AG Magazine, says that this is the first time that a police department in Latin America recognizes the rights of the same-sex partner of one of its officers.

Velandia, who names the officer as Javier O., says that the couple decided to speak publicly to let other officers know that they could enjoy the same benefits as married heterosexual partners.

The Catholic church in Colombia reacted in dismay that a Colombian religious institution would not only allow but also take an active role in performing wedding rights for a same-sex couple. Legally, the Colombian government still does not recognize same-sex marriages. The Constitutional Court ruling in January granting equal rights to same-sex couples also stopped short of specifically saying that gays should be allowed to marry.

The issue of Latin American military and police forces struggling to address the rights of their gay officers seems to be a trending topic these days with the issue being currently debated in Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay and Chile just this month alone. The pace of progress on LGBT rights in Latin America sometimes even catches me off guard.

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