"We do not see [gays] as being a family or married or an integral part of the social fabric but as needing clinical, psychiatric, medical and spiritual care, if possible, to help acknowledge their condition so that they can reverse it and recover their gender identity" - Javier Suarez Pascagaza, Director of the Husband and Wife Foundation to HSB News, October 6, 2013.
"I don't think God created homosexuals. That would be an evil God" - Javier Suarez Pascagaza, Director of the Husband and Wife Foundation to Kien y Ke, October 28, 2013.
- LEADER OF COLOMBIAN ORGANIZATION THAT SEEKS TO BLOCK MARRIAGE RIGHTS FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES AND BAN THEM FROM ADOPTING CHILDREN IS A GAY MAN, SAY FORMER JESUIT SEMINARY SCHOOL CLASSMATES
- DESPITE HAVING FILED LAWSUITS CHALLENGING DECISIONS BY A NUMBER OF CIVIL COURT JUDGES WHO HAVE GRANTED MARRIAGE LICENSES TO FOUR SAME-SEX COUPLES SINCE JULY, THOSE MARRIAGES STILL ARE LEGALLY VALID; A COURT HAD ANNULLED TWO OF THEM BASED ON MR. SUÁREZ' LAWSUITS BUT A HIGHER COURT DETERMINED HE HAD NO LEGAL STANDING AND VACATED THE LOWER COURT'S DECISION.
Meet Javier Suárez Pascagaza, director of the Husband and Wife Foundation. Nobody had heard of Mr. Suárez or his "foundation" until he surfaced in July and declared he would legally challenge any civil court judge that dare grant a same-sex couple a marriage license.
The story so far: In 2011, the Colombian constitutional court gave the country's legislature an ultimatum: Grant same-sex couples the same rights as married couples by the summer of 2013 - whether they called it marriage or something else - or else all same-sex couples would automatically earn the right to get marriage licenses.
A marriage equality bill was introduced in Congress but it was quickly voted down and the court's deadline came to pass without the legislature addressing the core issue.
As the deadline approached, the country's powerful Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez and the director of the agency that oversaw all notaries came up with a ploy to block same-sex marriages: They invented a contract called a "solemn union" and directed all notary officers to use it anytime a same-sex couple approached them and asked for a marriage license. The Inspector General's office also sent private memos to all notaries ordering them to keep track of every same-sex couple who asked for a marriage license and report it back to his office.
Marriage equality advocates saw through the strategy and took a different route: They urged same-sex couples to avoid heading to the notaries and instead they advised them to go before a civil court judge. A notary officer had full discretion in denying a marriage license without having to explain the decision while a civil court judge had to explain their decision in writing and a negative decision could potentially be appealed.
|Gonzalo Rincón and Carlos Hernando Rivera|
On July 24th, a civil court judge declared Gonzalo Rincón and Carlos Hernando Rivera united in matrimony although she stopped short of calling it a marriage.
Then on September 20th, a different civil court judge granted Julio Albeiro Cantor Borbón and William Alberto Castro Franco a marriage contract.
On September 25th another civil court judge granted a marriage license to Claudia Zea and Elizabeth Castillo in what became front page news ("Marriage equality is a fact" declared El Espectador).
And, finally, on October 4th, Adriana González y Marcela Rojas were also granted a marriage license.
The rise of the Husband and Wife Foundation: These four victories also saw the sudden emergence of a brand new organization called the Husband and Wife Foundation and its director Javier Suárez Pascagaza.
After news of the first marriage emerged, Suárez announced himself as the head of the brand new foundation and vowed to take these judges to court and, at least initially, he was successful in getting a court to invalidate two of the four marriages.
Thankfully, legal advocates for the LGBT-rights organization Colombia Diversa challenged that ruling in higher court and won. Mr. Suárez was found not to have legal standing to launch the lawsuit which means that as of today all four marriages remain with legal standing.
In the meantime a Noticias UNO investigation of the foundation revealed that only two people were listed as officers - Mr. Suárez and his military brother Carlos Suárez Pascagaza - and its mission was to "promote the moral, ethic and religious morals of the family" despite many public assurances that the organization was not a religious institution. The investigation also also revealed closer ties to the Inspector General's office than Mr. Suárez had previously admitted (see full Spanish language video below)
But in interviews he has repeatedly used the language of the religious right against gays: That gays cannot marry because they cannot procreate, that they need psychiatric attention to reverse their identity and that there is no way God created gays and lesbians because if that was the case God would be an evil entity.
Religion was also front and center at an October 8th rally in the town of Gachetá which drew more than 100 church-affiliated town members and was led by Mr. Suárez.
Participants, among them priests and nuns, carried signs reading "God created a man and a woman," "No more gay marriages in Gachetá" and "Catholic Gachetá deserves respect" and congregated outside the offices of Judge Julio Gonzalez who had granted a marriage license to Claudia Zea and Elisabeth Castillo just days before.
Judge Gonzalez took to Twitter the next day to denounce the attempt at intimidation.
gacheta se alza contra los matrimonios igualitarios protestas públicas protagonizadas por párrocos e iglesias evangélicas @ColombiaDiversa"Gachetá rises against marriage equality, public protests with priests and evangelical churches as protagonists," he wrote.
— julio Gonzalez H (@dedth33) October 9, 2013
A local newspaper caught up to Mr. Suárez during the religious rally and he happily confirmed he wanted to send a strong message to other judges considering granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Mr. Suárez, outed: As it turns out, for a man who seemingly appeared out of thin air last July Mr. Suárez has a past.
In an interview published today in El Espectador, a former classmate of Mr. Suárez alleges that the man who now leads the Husband and Wife Foundation was kicked out from their Jesuit school for being gay.
Raúl Quintana, who also identifies as a gay man, says that it was clear to everyone at school that Mr. Suárez was gay and that he once heard him openly express his attraction to another man. Quintana alleges that he was open about his sexual identity and that the priests at the school were OK with it but that what bothered them and led to Mr. Suárez being kicked out was that he was being dishonest about it.
Asked about why he chose to come forward now, Quintano says:
"I can't stand the hypocrisy that almost always exists behind acts of homophobia. One day I read that a foundation had been created against marriage rights for gays and when I saw the name of Javier Suárez I did not associate it with that of my former classmate... Pascagaza, we used to call him by his last name because we thought it was funny. It left me cold so I decided to call Colombia Diversa and expose the double morality. Suárez has the least authority to point his finger at us."
For corroboration of some of these facts, El Espectador also interviewed John Jairo Jácome, a reporter for La Opinión in Cucuta who says he was also one of Mr. Suárez' classmates at the Jesuit school.
Mr. Jácome says that most students knew which of the other students and priests were gay. "Who was I to judge [Mr. Suárez] for the mere fact he was part of a group I did not belong in, since I am straight."
He says that as long as students and priests remained chaste, the Jesuit school was actually pretty welcoming of people who identified as gay and he argues that in leading the fight against gay rights Mr. Suárez is actually turning his back on the tolerant teachings of the Jesuit school.
Mr. Jácome after he left the school and Mr. Suárez was let go he heard from others that Mr. Suárez traveled to the United States to work with a church interested in expanding their role in Latin America.
"You have to know that he comes from a very poor family," Mr. Jácome says, "Someone must be funding him because you need money to lead a foundation and launch lawsuits."
UPDATE: W Radio interviewed Mr. Suárez on Nov. 11th, 2013 and asked him about the allegations. In the audio, Mr. Suárez confirms he once sought to become a priest but abandoned that route, he made it clear he had agreed to the interview as long as he was not asked questions about his personal life, said that blaming someone as being gay was a common ploy by LGBT rights activists but ultimately did not disclose whether he was gay or not (full 20 minute Spanish-language audio here).
He also indicated he was considering filing lawsuits against anyone who was spreading "false" information about him. Interestingly he focused on the fact people were alleging his organization was religious rather than the allegation he might be gay.
VIDEO: Noticias UNO exposes the religious and political ties of the Husband and Wife Foundation and its director Javier Suárez (in Spanish).