File this one in the “no surprise” column. Despite diplomatic support recently from Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, a Costa Rican court has officially denied a same-sex couple’s claim last week for domestic partnership recognition — the first legal test since an embarrassing, mistaken reform to Costa Rica’s Young Persons Act in July.
The July reform was part of a larger bill and thus the change in language — which took out the specifics of defining marriage as between a man and a woman — was not noted before lawmakers unanimously passed it.
In socially-conservative Costa Rica, reactions, of both extremes, were plentiful.
Liberals took to the streets to celebrate finally achieving formal recognition for same-sex couples. Conservatives organized protests and rallies condemning the reform and demanding its immediate reversal. Justo Orozco, a Costa Rican, evangelical congressman — and often the image of ultra-conservatism and civil irrationality in the Central American nation — even said:
We are a democratic country, without discrimination, but majority rules.
As they say, two out of three ain’t bad. Costa Rica is democratic. Majority does rule. Without discrimination? Not so much.
Though hard to fathom and listen to at times, Orozco is right on one point: the majority of Costa Ricans still oppose same-sex marriage. As I noted in my original post on the matter, the number still in disagreement reached 73 percent in a 2011 poll. While a younger and more liberal-minded generation is growing, that statistic stands out.
Given this, the decision by the court last week can be seen as nothing more than a formality. Ever since the “mistaken reform,” politicians, lawmakers, and anyone involved have been looking for a way to close the perceived loophole. To her credit, much maligned — and publicly opposed to same-sex marriage — President Laura Chinchilla said she would not veto the bill or stand in the way of something that was passed legally.
It turns out that she didn’t have to. While the reform gave hope to same-sex couples, it was always anything but clear. The language of the Young Persons Act was adjusted to not specifically refer to gender in the context of marriage. However, Article 14, section 6 of Costa Rica’s Family Code says marriage cannot happen between two people of the same sex.
What same-sex couples in Costa Rica really seek, in conjunction with formal recognition, are the common benefits that come with being married, such as hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and insurance coverage. The hurdle that remains — and which wasn’t addressed with the July reform — is that Costa Rica distinguishes between marriage and domestic partnerships. And, no, same-sex couples aren’t eligible for the latter, either.
In his ruling, Judge Marchena cited this stating that for two people of the same sex to be married is “legally impossible.” He also referenced Article 242 of the same Family Code, which states that domestic partnerships are also only between men and women.
Nobody knew exactly what the July reform meant, other than it was an embarrassment for Costa Rican officials. However, the little hope it gave to the gay community represents the difficulty, even on a small scale, that same-sex couples have being recognized in Costa Rica.
The ruling that came down last week, while not a surprise, will only spur the push for equal rights. The couple in this case, Lorenzo Serrano and Alberto Gonzalez, are appealing the ruling, and there are at least eight other domestic partnership cases pending across the country.
The fight will go on, but don’t hold your breath.