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By: Andrew Woodbury - @A_W10 - Jul 11, 2013, 11:26 am

Pura vida. The adopted motto of Costa Rica and its people can be used as a greeting, farewell, and anything in between. The phrase also sarcastically extends to Costa Ricans’ and expats’ reactions alike to those inefficiencies and frustrations that are all too familiar for those who’ve experienced life in Central America.

Frustrations were also abundant last week when the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly passed a bill that could pave the way for the formal recognition of same-sex couples. Progressive? Forward looking? A nation much maligned in recent years for sitting back is finally taking steps to establish itself as the most developed and advanced nation in Central America? Not quite.

The ironic use of “pura vida” as a national slogan is fitting. It represents a nation littered with ironic story lines in recent years.

Its president, Laura Chinchilla, was historically elected as the country’s first female president in its history in 2010. Chinchilla is now Costa Rica’s most unpopular president in over 20 years, according to a survey in Costa Rican newspaper La Nación. So low is her approval rating that the Latin American Public Opinion Project is reporting that it’s negatively affecting Ticos’ opinion of democracy.

The fun, ironic twists continued recently as a grand total of one day after Costa Rica had its gay pride parade through the streets of its capital city San José, conservative MPs were mortified to learn that they themselves had in fact passed a piece of legislation which may lead to the legalization of same-sex unions. Ready for the kicker? It was an accident.

Diversity Parade
Last week’s diversity march in San José, Costa Rica. Source: The Tico Times.

The bill, which passed through the legislative assembly on July 1, was approved as a result of wording being changed that none of the members of parliament took the time to read. Despite fierce conservative opposition to the law thereafter, it gained President Chinchilla’s approval three days later.

So what does this new bill say, exactly? Good question. The modification changed the previous bill which stated unions were only recognized between a man and a woman. The new terminology, inserted by José María Villalta, a lawmaker from San José and member of the leftist Broad Front Party, is a reform of the country’s Young Persons Law.

The reform modifies part of the code which applies to civil unions between those who have been co-habituating for three or more years, as reported in The Tico Times.  It outlines “the recognition of the right, without discrimination contrary to human dignity, to social and hereditary benefits of civil unions.”

Still not sure what it means? You’re not alone. The first part of the modification seems to suggest only those same-sex couples that can prove a minimum of three years co-habituating would be eligible to receive the benefits of this law. Dare we open up the box of what constitutes proof of co-habitation?

Regardless of your view on same-sex unions, this is a mess.

The terminology used in the bill doesn’t use the term “marriage” but instead focuses on civil unions, expanding the gray area. Many are predicting, though, that the legalization of same-sex marriage is where this could end up.

Not so fast. While progressive in some areas of civil liberties, Costa Rica has always been by the bible in terms of gay marriage. A poll in 2011 showed that a whopping 73 percent of Costa Ricans still opposed same-sex marriage. Justo Orozco, a member of the evangelical National Renovation Party, and surely part of the 73 percent, has echoed those sentiments in La Nación saying “preference is not a right. It’s a stunted development of sexual identity. It can change like alcoholism, tobacco addiction.”

Still, there is no argument that this new bill has given newfound hope to same-sex couples. Mere hours after the bill passed, some couples were already petitioning before civil courts to have their civil unions formally recognized. The elephant in the room remains: recognized as what?

Costa Rica, accidentally or not, would join the list of five other Latin American countries that currently recognize same-sex partnerships. Argentina and Uruguay recognize gay marriage while Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador recognize same-sex unions, according to the Washington Post. At least those countries know where they stand on the issue.

Marriage? Civil union? None of the above? We don’t know. Neither do they. Pura vida.

Andrew Woodbury Andrew Woodbury

From Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is a Young Voices advocate, editor, and educator at the International Language Academy of Canada. Follow him @A_W10, and read more of his featured PanAm Post column, “Connecting the Dots.”