Friday, December 15, 2006

Colombia: Same-sex partnership rights? Not so fast...

A few people have asked: "So what's up with that impending vote on same-sex partnership rights in the Colombian House of Representatives?"

Short answer: The vote has not taken place and it is now likely that opponents will get their wish: If there is no vote by the end of the 2006 legislative session (which I believe comes to a close this weekend), the bill will have been defeated and a new measure would have to be reintroduced in a new legislative session for it to be reconsidered.

Long Answer: Earlier this month the leading editorial newspaper in the country reported that, if it came to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote, it was certain to pass. But actually getting it to the floor has proven to be the linchpin, despite backing from conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

In a public audience that took place on December 5th, advocates and foes of the measure presented their arguments on the floor of the House of Representatives. Since then, though, conservative legislators have managed to block an actual floor vote by fast-tracking other bills and using filibuster strategies fully knowing that if they are successful if not allowing a vote on the bill by the end of the 2006 legislative session they will have in fact defeated it.

There has been some behind-the-scenes drama as well:

Immediately after the Senate passed a version of the bill in October, Alfredo Cuello Baute, the President of the House of Representatives, vowed to do everything in his power to sink the bill. But an ethics panel committee said that those statements reflected a lack of impartiality on the issue and ruled that this made him ineligible to preside over the debate, a huge victory for advocates of the measure (on the other hand, the ethics committee also said that it was also looking into whether Representative Oscar Gomez Agudelo should recuse himself from the vote for having come out publicly as having a long term relationship with another man).

In the meantime, long-simmering tensions between some of the leading gay-rights advocates in the country became more public as Manuel Antonio Velandia, probably the best known openly gay leader in Colombia, said that he'd rather see the rights of the gay community continue to be trampled upon than support Senator Alvaro Araujo who introduced the bill in the Senate (as paraphrased earlier in the month in El Espectador).

You could read that statement in a number of ways but some activists were angered by what they saw as an attempt to undermine efforts to push for passage of the law. Particularly because Mr. Velandia has been on the sidelines of the debate this time around despite having been the architect of a similar bill in the late 1990's and holding center stage during public hearings when another bill was introduced by left-wing Senator Piedad Cordoba in 2000.

In an online e-mail list, Mr. Velandia defended his comments and said that, if people had read more closely, they would have realized that he wasn't against the content of the bill itself but the fact that Senator Araujo was the one who had introduced the bill. Senator Araujo is among a number of Senators who might lose his seat due to alleged ties to paramilitary forces. Mr. Velandia has also recently been the recipient of several death threats for commentary he has written in a blog linked to the newsweekly

The final stake through the heart of the bill might have come from a government agency. On December 6, a representative for the Ministry of Housing expressed concern that the same-sex partnership bill might make it easier for persons to commit fraud by falsely declaring a common relationship in requesting housing assistance. They also alleged that there had been no credible studies that established the number of same-sex partnerships in the country which left the ministry without tools to measure the actual economic impact of the proposed law on the agency.

Colombia Diversa has countered some of the claims by the Ministry of Housing in a statement posted online and sent to press but it might be a little too late. Unless a miracle happens, it seems that Colombia will still discriminate against same-sex couples at the end of the day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just as I thought. I am always wary of these overoptimistic reports that a pro-gay bill is likely to be passed in Latin America. In most cases, something will end up blocking them. Likewise, nothing has come to pass of the plans to pass a civil unions bill in Uruguay despite all the assurances that it would likely be passed. I don't get my hopes up just because these bills pass one house of the legislature. Wait until the things are actually passed to start congratulating.