Monday, March 27, 2006

LGBT rights front and center in Colombia's presidential race

Having fought for a constitutional amendment that would allow a president to serve more than just one term and won, conservative Colombian president Alvaro Uribe now finds himself in full campaign mode as he seeks to solidify an insurmountable lead before the May elections and avoid a run-off (a recent poll shows 64% of Colombian voters would vote to re-elect Uribe, though that is down from 70% eight months ago).

On Saturday, the campaign tour brough the President to the Cafam School for a "democracy workshop" with college students that lasted most of the day. At around 4:30pm, after the session was done, Uribe said he would answer questions. According to yesterday's issue of "El Tiempo," the amazing Mauricio Albarracin, Coordinator of the Human Rights Project at Colombia Diversa, stood up and said:
I would like to ask a question that worries and affects an important number of citizens which has to do with a proposition that you established, and this is that ours is a country that honors liberty and the principles that [your government] presented to us in Plan Colombia 2019 [a governmental document mapping out Colombian growth and prosperity on the eve of celebrating its second century of political independence]: Tolerance and a country where no-one is excluded. The question, Mr. President, is: Will you and your political team support legislation to provide civil rights and social security to same-sex partners?
The paper says that despite having been in the meeting since early in the morning, Uribe didn't even blink and responded as if he had practiced a response many times:
I will be completely sincere. First topic, marriage: no; second topic, adoption: no; proprietary / inheritance rights [derecho patrimonial], yes; social security: yes
El Tiempo says that the President then said that he was ready to allow affiliations to social security benefits by gays through their same-sex partners "immediately" which the paper cateogrized as a man not speaking as a presidential candidate, but "a President with the power to do this now."

As for pension rights, the paper reports that the President said that it "can't happen immediately due to the country's fiscal problems. That is something to be achieved gradually."

This was as far as the Presdent and his political party has ever gone on the issue or will probably ever go in the future - which clearly defines the battle lines in the next congressional session (which starts July 20th) when newly re-elected Senator Piedad Cordoba, a frequent critic of the President's policies from the leftist Liberal Party, re-introduces a gay-rights bill that will include, the paper said, "marriage" [Cordoba introduced a limited civil union bill which was brought to the Colombian Senate floor for a vote on August 26, 2003, but defeated when it was thrown out of the floor on technicalities following pressure from the Catholic church. On the eve of the Senate hearing, the Senator spoke to the New York-based Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association to gather international support. The aborted drive for the bill in 2003 exposed tensions between the leadership of the LGBT movement in Colombia which have yet to fully heal. At the time, I thought it was telling that despite church pressure, he remained mute on the issue until a couple of days before the vote when he announced his opposition. That particular bill was historically supported by three Colombian ex-presidents as well].

On Friday, Caracol Radio released numbers from a Gallup Poll that revealed that 77% of Colombians reject the legalization of homosexual unions with 19% supporting them. The strongest opposition comes from the northern coastal urban areas with 90% against legalizing them. [NOTE: The UK's Guardian takes a look at Uribe's popularity in this March 28th, 2006 piece]


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