Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Colombia: One Bogota notary office, a hundred same-sex partnership registrations

Norberto Salamanca might not be a gay but he's certainly seen his share of same-sex couples come through his office doors to request his services.

Norberto is a notary public in a country that relies on notary offices for a wide assortment of legal agreements and Notary Office 76 - which he oversees - happens to be in the heart of the Chapinero neighborhood which is gay central in Bogota.

It's been a year since Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled "that gay couples in long-term relationships should have the same rights to shared assets as heterosexual couples" (AP, Feb. 8, 2007).

The Court indicated that same-sex couples who wanted full control of their joint patrimony (or shared assets) only had to swear under oath and before a notary public to the fact that they had been together for longer than two years.

On Monday, El Tiempo reported that more than 100 same-sex couples had already registered their partnerships at Notary Office 76 during the past year and that it was not the only notary that had registered same-sex couples (Bogota's Notary 40 had 22 on file and Atlantico's Notary Office 1 had seen a dozen couples from cities in the Caribbean coast register their partnerships).

Interestingly, while the Court took pains last year to explain that their ruling should not be interpreted as giving the green light for same-sex civil unions or marriages, some of the couples that have registered their partnerships at Notary Office 76 have made a ceremony out of it.

Mr. Salamanca tells El Tiempo that he's seen couples and guests carrying wedding invites in their hand, reading statements, taking pictures of the event and exchanging rings. Some couples kiss each other to seal the ceremony.

It's not all groovy. Joao Herrera, notary public at Office 1, says that some couples have expressed fears of being seen at the notary and being outed. Mr. Salamanca says that he has received letters in which he has been taken to task for "attempting against morality."

Some notaries, say a few advocates, also have refused to register same-sex couples. But openly gay lawyer German Humberto Rincon Perfetti (above) says that he's been successful in challenging some of the notaries in court when they have refused to do so.

In the meantime, Colombian same-sex partners living outside the country have also taken note of the law. Couples living in Spain, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela and Mexico have traveled to their home country to register their partnerships as well.

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