|Claudia Zea and Elizabeth Castillo were united in civil marriage on Wednesday in a low-key ceremony that remained secret until now|
(Photo used by permission courtesy of Paola Zuluaga)
MAJOR UPDATE #2 (Nov. 10, 2013): Since writing this post, lower courts annulled two of four same-sex marriages that have taken place since July. On appeal, though, those annulments were declared invalid as the person who challenged them in court was declared not to have legal standing by a higher court - which means all four same-sex marriages still have legal standing.
In addition, the person who challenged the judges who granted these marriage licenses though a phantom homophobic organization called the Husband and Wife Foundation was outed as a gay man himself by two former classmates at a Jesuit seminary school ("Leading opponent of same-sex marriages in Colombia outed as a gay man").
CORRECTION: An original version of this post contained the following phrase: "Argentina and Uruguay already allow marriages for same-sex couples and some regions in Mexico and Brazil do the same". After comments on this post and checking with LGBT advocates based in Brazil I have changed that phrase to read "Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay already allow marriages for same-sex couples as well as Mexico City. Several Mexican states have also seen same-sex couples get marriage licenses through court rulings." Particular thanks for the assistance of Bruno Bimbi, author of the definite tome on how Argentina became the first country in Latin America to pass a marriage equality law ("Marriage Equality"). He currently lives in Brazil and is an expert on the region.
If watching marriage equality advance throughout the United States has been moving and inspirational, the same can be said of Latin America as countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay already allow marriages for same-sex couples as well as Mexico City. Several Mexican states have also seen same-sex couples get marriage licenses through court rulings.
Now you can add Colombia to that list.
In a surprising statement released on Wednesday, Colombian attorney and long-time LGBT-rights advocate Germán Humerto Rincón Perfetti announced that a .civil court judge had declared Julio Albeiro Cantor Borbón and William Alberto Castro Franco "united in civil matrimony" in a ceremony that took place on September 20th.
Then today the leading national newspaper El Espectador announced in its front page that Elizabeth Castillo and Claudia Zea had joined them on Wednesday when a second civil court judge also granted them a marriage license. "I join you in a legitimate civil matrimony with all the prerogatives and rights that civil law grants you and the same obligations imposed by civil law," said the judge before the couple signed their marriage license.
The uphill battle for marriage equality in Colombia has been years in the making and fraught with setbacks and false starts. Several same-sex civil union bills were introduced during the last decade without advancing legislatively. But a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling ordering Congress to find a way to grant same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples kicked the ball into motion. The Court left legislators wiggle-room in what to call the same-sex partnership measure and avoided mentioning the word "marriage" but it also said that if Congress had failed to act by the summer of 2013 same-sex couples would then automatically be eligible to apply for civil matrimony.
Congress did take up a marriage equality bill this April but a majority of legislators voted it down and, as the deadline set the Constitutional Court approached, the director if the agency that oversees notary officers throughout the country instructed them not to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples and offer, instead, a trumped up norm called a "solemn union".
Marriage equality advocates led by Marcela Sanchéz of the LGBT-rights organization Colombia Diversa saw through the ploy and advised same-sex couples to avoid notary offices and instead head to the civil courts. The reason? Notary officers had been instructed to decline marriage license requests on the spot whereas a civil court judge would have to put in writing their arguments for or against granting a marriage license to a gay couple.
In fact, on July 24th a civil court judge stopped just short of granting a first marriage license while declaring Gonzalo Ruiz Giraldo and Carlos Hernando Rivera Ramírez legal spouses (their spousal union document reads "estado civil: casados" or "civil status: spouses." After the private ceremony, that particular judge spoke to media and made clear that she had not given them a marriage license.
There have been dozens of same-sex couples that have gone to notaries and officiated their "solemn unions" but the argument from Colombia Diversa is that a "solemn union" is a figure that has never existed and still does not exist in the nation's legal family code.
Colombia Diversa argues that the only existing norm recognizing the same marriage rights as those granted to heterosexual couples is marriage and, in light of the Colombian Congress's failure to act, same sex couples automatically have the right to marry.
But the Colombian government in the form of its Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez has fought the Constitutional Court and its ruling every step of the way and has used his office to go after gay couples demanding that all notary officers alert him if any gay couple requests a marriage license.
Ordoñez has been so aggressive in challenging these rulings that the Constitutional Court itself has publicly admonished him twice and argued his office has no standing in these matters.
Yesterday the Inspector General's office announced that it would fight to stop these marriages using a fast track appeal legal form called a "tutela".
Lawyer Mauricio Albarracín argues that for a "tutela" to proceed the applicant has to prove these marriages violate a person's rights which Albarracín says will be impossible for Ordoñez to prove.
The issue will probably head back to the upper courts in the future but as of this week Julio Albeiro Cantor Borbon is married to William Alberto Castro Franco and Claudia Zea is married to Elizabeth Castillo.
Marriage equality has come to Colombia.
UPDATE (Sept. 30, 2013): Out lesbian Bogotá councilmember Angélica Lozano just twitted a photo of herself filing a claim against Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez before the district attorney's office. It reads "Legally denouncing the Inspector General for abuse of authority and arbitrary and unjust acts against gays".
Denunciado penalmente el procurador por abuso de autoridad, actos arbitrarios e injustos contra homosexuales pic.twitter.com/v2iyZBJUPh
— Angélica Lozano (@AngelicaLozanoC) September 30, 2013