While officially Costa Rica isn’t the next country legalizing gay marriage, a bill that passed last week with open language leaves room for the possibility.
The Costa Rican legislature debated and passed changes to a bill called “Law of Young People” that covers social services and marriage laws. The bill had previously defined marriage concisely as being between a man and a woman; however within the first debates of the bill, leftist politicians declared that the law might cover gays and lesbians as well. In the proceedings José María Villalta, a member of the leftist Broad Front (Frente Amplio) Party, explained that “the Law of Young People should be interpreted with this sense of opening to gays,” and that after discussing it, “no one objected.”
Seeing no opposition, Villalta wrote into the bill that marriages extend “the right to recognition without discrimination contrary to human dignity,” and the bill passed unanimously through the legislature.
After it passed, rightist representatives realized how the text of the bill could be interpreted, and began to cry out against the bill. Many feel that they were deceived in the passage, and that they voted in error. Villata told La Nacíon that “Politicians approve projects without reading them through,” regarding a larger problem within the Costa Rican legislative assembly.
When the bill went to President Laura Chinchilla’s desk last Thursday, most conservatives called on her to veto it, citing that it goes against the constitution and traditional family values. She has stated in the past that she wouldn’t oppose a court to rule on legalizing gay marriage, but that she wouldn’t campaign for it. After signing the bill, she said in response to these calling for its veto, “We understand that the debate is over how some interpret the law and this alone is not sufficient for the executive to veto the law.”
At this point, since the language of the bill is ambiguous, it will have to be decided within the courts as President Chinchilla alluded. Some politicians have said that the bill should be read in the context of heterosexual couples, as that is how marriage is already established. Gay rights activists disagree, with Villalta saying that the bill’s passage “[opens] the door for recognizing the rights of same-sex unions.”
Either way, people are not confident about how same-sex marriages or civil unions would hold up in courts with low public support on the issue. By the time it makes it there, though, things could change. If gay marriages or civil unions are recognized within the country Costa Rica would be the sixth Latin American country to have them, joining Argentina and Uruguay with gay marriages, or Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador with same-sex civil unions.