Sunday, April 21, 2013

Colombia: A mother's love

Dr. Maria Lucia Cuellar and her gay son Arturo San Juan grace the front page of today's Colombian newspaper El Espectador after she became an online sensation for comments she made defending her sons right to marry on the Senate floor on Thursday (photo courtesy of Manuel M. Sanabria)
I wish I could have better news about the marriage equality battle in my country of birth, Colombia. On Thursday the Senate was supposed to vote on a marriage equality bill but the vote was postponed until Tuesday, April 23rd, following hours of debate.

Unfortunately the outcome seems predetermined as a coalition of conservative senators led by the "La U" political party have indicated they have enough votes to sink the bill.

J. Lester Feder has full details over at BuzzFeed ("Colombian marriage bill appears likely to fail").

The upshot is that Congress is acting on orders from the Constitutional Court which gave Congress an ultimatum to pass legislation granting same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples before June 20th of this year. If Congress fails to act same-sex couples could potentially register their partnership in a notary and get all the rights of a married heterosexual couple whether or not it is called a "marriage".  From BuzzFeed:
The first test will be with the notaries, who are empowered by the court's 2011 ruling to start solemnizing same-sex unions on June 20. LGBT activists will demand that these be recognized as full marriages, and then they will have to go to court to establish that this truly is what the court intended in 2011. This will be a battle, since the superintendent of notaries Jorge Enrique Vélez has already declared that they will not. The conflict nonetheless would open another opportunity for the court to weigh in, and the institution has a long history of expanding LGBT rights over the objections of conservative politicians and religious leaders.
The sudden decision to postpone a vote on Thursday came after opponents of the marriage equality bill tried to block testimony from people defending marriage equality and then found themselves in the embarrassing position of trying to pull one of their experts off the floor when his statements became too embarrassing even for them.

Among the arguments made by self-described theologian Mario Cely Quintero:
  • "It has been proven that when two men have the same cerebral structure they are incapable of loving each other... and are always seeking to replace the affection they never received as a child by seeking orgasmic discharges."
  • "Demographers have proven that in Northern Europe, in Canada, in the United States in the zones of San Francisco and Los Angeles where there are the highest number of homosexuals that when you allow a direct process of legalization of homophilia - be it by law or the Constitution - heterosexual families begin rapidly disintegrating. You can look it up through Norwegian demographer Kathrine Hillman (sp?) who proved this in countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland."
  • "What will they ask for next! The organized homosexual movement - the gays - will they ask as is being done by NAMBLA in the United States for the legalization of love between an old man and a child?  We will then hear calls for Colombian society to lower the consensual age to 10 or 8 years of age."
  • "Have you thought about the medical consequences of homosexuality? It's been demonstrated that homosexuality lowers longevity... there is a lot of illness as a result of anal cancer and AIDS and a number of other diseases which endanger society, our adolescents and our youth."
This from one of only two "experts" allowed by the Senate President to speak against marriage equality on the floor of the Senate.  No wonder Mr. Quintero was publicly asked to refrain from making such insulting statements and pulled off the floor suddenly marking an end to the debate.

Compared to that vitriolic hatefulness, the highlight of the day was a presentation by one two persons allowed to speak in support of marriage equality, psychologist Martha Lucia Cuellar.

In a video that has now gone viral Dr. Cuellar forcefully defends the right to marry for same-sex couples in light of the discrimination she has seen her son suffer (full translated transcript of her speech at the bottom of this post):

The speech and the viral nature of the Senate video posted last week on YouTube has made Dr. Cuellar an overnight star in Colombia with her son Arturo San Juan taking to twitter to joke about it.
"I can't stand my mother being more famous than I am," he writes,"nevertheless her Twitter handle is @martulanga, for her followers"
Understandably, her Twitter follow count has gone from 300 on Thursday to 1,500 at the moment. After being flooded with thank you messages, Dr. Cuellar thanked everyone who wrote to her in gratitude.
"Thank you. Thank you all for all your beautiful messages," she writes, "The LGBT community deserves being defended because society owes them."
News that there were enough votes to sink the bill came before the Senate debate on Thursday and I expect that's where Dr. Cuellar's simmering but respectful anger during her speech comes from. But it's difficult to believe any Senator who votes against marriage equality on Tuesday won't remember her searing words or feel no small degree of shame when casting that vote.

On Tuesday every Senator will decide whether to stand for a man who claims gays are deviants bent on destroying every single heterosexual marriage on earth and who exist only for the purpose of spreading anal cancer while trying to find their next orgasmic discharge.

Or they will decide to stand for a mother and her love for her gay son.

A side note: A few stars from the Colombian entertainment industry have come out for marriage equality but not, as far as I know, those who are international super stars including Shakira and Juanes (please correct me on that if I am wrong).

I was particularly disappointed earlier this month when Sofia Vergara visited the Colombian city of Barranquilla and a reporter asked her whether she supported the marriage equality bill.

Vergara, star of one of the most gay-friendly shows on U.S. television ("Modern Family") seems caught between a rock and a hard place and, if you pay close attention to the clip below, she manages to escape the interview without actually saying if she supports marriage equality.

From the clip:
Well, the truth is that it's a very delicate thing. I don't like... Everyone has their own opinion and the beautiful thing about this world is that each person can have their own opinion.  I believe people should truly do what makes them happy and if that's what makes a couple happy then, God willing, they'll be able to find happiness... I believe that - inevitably - this IS modern life. It's what's happening around the world today and I think it's absurd to try to hide it or to continue doing things the same way we have always done. I think we should keep our minds open and be tolerant of everything.
It's a nifty hat trick and she has used before. When she was asked last year about Obama's "evolution" on the subject she said "It's important to accept everyone and not to judge anybody" which sounds just as non-committal about marriage equality as the statements she made in Colombia.

It's confounding.

In 2010 Vergara shot a Spanish language PSA inviting people to become members of GLAAD and, speaking to The Advocate in 2011 about the ad she said the following:
Most of us are raised in a very Catholic environment, and the macho figure is very strong in our culture, so it’s still more taboo and a million times more dramatic to come out. Many gay friends have told me how hard it was for them to be open in the Latin community. Nothing’s going to change from one day to the other, so it’s a matter of doing things little by little. 
Perhaps that's what is holding off Vergara from saying the words "I support marriage equality in Colombia." She still thinks it's a step too far and that our rights should wait.

If that's the case, that's bullshit. The time for Vergara and stars like Shakira and Juanes to stand firm on the side of equality is right now.


Dr. Martha Lucia Cuéllar's statements before the Colombian Senate on Thursday, April 18th, 2013.

Thank you and good afternoon.

My name is Martha Lucia Cuéllar de San Juan. Happily married for thirty-five years, openly heterosexual, in love with my husband Carlos Arturo San Juan, profoundly devout - profoundly devout - and I have a gay son.

And twelve years ago, dear viewers and Senators, I stood here in this same building demanding equal rights for my son as his mother.  At the time he'd been with his partner for three years, more or less, and I was here because of the pain I felt as a mother when I witnessed several instances of discrimination in a different number of settings.

And here I was thinking that since society is so dynamic and those who draft legislation should know better, with all due respect, Senators, today after twelve years we still continue to think as if we lived in the 19th Century.

Those rights achived by the LGBT community have been earned without your support - Without your support! - So I wanted to let you know that my son spent a little more than eleven years together in a relationship with this man. Unfortunately, his partner died. They were an exemplary couple. They promised they would take care of each other. They promised each other solidarity. They promised each other a life together.

And I wanted to say - and it is my understanding as a psychologist - to people from the LGBT community including those watching us from the stands: You are not ill! You are not crazy! And you are not criminals! It has to do with dignity.

Or perhaps - and I apologize to the person who spoke beforehand, Dr. Henao - is dignity attached to one's genitals?  I am sorry to tell you that dignity lies here [points at her head] and here [points at her heart] and my son is being denied rights and they are being denied in this setting.

And I am sorry to tell Dr. Henao that it's an affront for him to say "How dare the Constitutional Court change the constitution" when the Constitutional Court IS the body that protects the constitution and frames the manner in which we conduct ourselves.

And I also wanted to tell you: That person died. My son's partner died. And he died two and a half years ago. And to this date his partner's life insurance company has yet to recognize [my son's] rights because he is gay and because there had never been anyone in this country  willing to claim life insurance rights as a gay person.

It turns out if they'd ever been recognized as a married couple he would have automatically been granted those rights. So I do not understand what it is that you fear so much. Where are your ghosts. What ghosts are you battling against. The fact is they exist. They are real. They have a life in common. The are out in the streets. We see them every day.

The only thing that WILL happen if you don't agree they have the same marriage rights is that you'll be cutting off their rights. You are clearly cutting off their rights.  And whether it's with you - and I am trying show you uttermost respect despite the anger I feel as a mother - with or without you this will go on. This will go on because the LGBT community will not budge. And I, as a mother, won't either. And how many mothers and how many fathers will follow suit.

I wanted to share this and it's apparent that all of you - and pardon the expression because I love them dearly and I couldn't live without my hairdresser - all of you appear to believe that if someone is from the LGBT community they can only be hairdressers. Excuse me. My son is a mathematician, he has a master's degree and he is finishing a PhD in Mathematics. That's not something done by an unworthy person. It shows a man who is absolutely and totally responsible for his actions.

I wanted to say that it might be better for all of us to get with the times and what society asks of us. Because I think it's terrible that my father - who passed away - and my mother - who is still alive and will soon be 80 years of age - were able to understand my son and his partner and the LGBT community while there are still those who are thirty or forty years of age who behave as if they were one hundred and five.

Things have changed. The model has been broken. And it's broken because - even if we do not want to recognize other family models - we have gotten to the point where I personally I have three friends who are married to their husbands who have decided not to have children. So... are they unworthy?

I also wanted to say that if you are associating belonging to the LGBT community with someone who is depraved you are mistaken. And I invite you to take a look at the data from Bienestar Familiar to see who the real rapists are: Parents, brothers, friends, cousins, those who are the closet and identify as heterosexual. So let's start from the fact that we have to break up the paradigm because we either break up the paradigm or the paradigm will break you.

So from this moment on - with all due respect but with all the force I have - this will change with or without your support.

And I wanted to tell you as someone who is a professor that the new generations - and I have taught at the Sabana U., the Piloto U., the San Toto U., the Military Academy, online universities, I have been a professor at the Todeo U. for the past thirteen years - the new generations are demanding more. You better wake up because the new generations will demand their due. You know how? By voting.

Thank you so much.

  • A group of LGBT advocates from Pereira, Colombia has set up an amazing Facebook page on which they are posting a number of videos by people who support marriage equality in Colombia. Appropriately the page is titled "150 Voices from Pereira in Favor of Marriage Equality".
  • On Twitter, Colombian LGBT advocates and allies have been using the hashtag #MatrimonioIgualitarioYa (marriage equality now) to organize. You can follow it here, particularly when debate on the marriage equality bill resumes on Tuesday.
  • The Spanish-language cover page story from Sunday's El Espectador titled "Mom of the gays" can be read here.
  • Apparently as the marriage equality debate riles France this week, French superstars are just as hesitant to get involved in the marriage equality battle as Colombian superstars.

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