Why it’s a big deal same-sex marriage has been backed in Latin America

This article was authored by Santiago Vega.* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of its author. 

Everything happened really fast. During my lunch break, one my best friends sent me a link to an article on Facebook and urged me to read it. I was shocked. I could not understand the implications of the ruling. It was certainly too much to handle. Last week, the Inter-America Court of Human Rights, the #1 institution for the protection of human rights in Latin America, ruled that all of its signatory countries must allow same-sex marriage. How obvious, you might think, right? But let me give you the plot twist: We live in Latin America.

What does living in Latin America looks like for a member of the LGTBQ community? Living in this region entails that, if you are a transgender woman, your life expectancy would be under 35. It means that, in most countries, you have no right to express yourself freely. You are not allowed to change your name in your National ID to match your gender identity or expression. You don’thave the right to marry a person you love if you both have the same sex. Living in Latin America means dealing with centuries of discrimination and a post-colonialist views that may prevent us from making decisions on our own on certain topics, as well as having to wait for somebody else’s opinion on how to govern.

However, for many governments - including our current Costa Rican Parliament - those appreciations were not that obvious. What happens when an increasingly dynamic, innovative, and interconnected population faces XIX century's policies? How can we grant governance and equality for all citizens, if our Parliaments throughout Latin America reinforce their reluctance to grant Basic Human Rights for all? Back in May 2016, the Government of Costa Rica made a very risky chess move. They sent a formal request to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, asking to rule on LGBT rights, gender identity and same-sex marriage, among others. Over a year and half had passed since that first move, but  some of us wanted them to win. And last week we were finally checkmated.

It was a risky move because the Court’s rulings are binding and must be executed by all signatory countries. Therefore, this order, i.e. allowing same-sex marriages, must be adopted by Barbados, Bolivia, Brasil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Surinam. Other member-States such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay have already passed laws on same-sex marriage, whilst Mexico and Brasil recognise civil marriages by law but only in certain states.

As for now, we are celebrating! The night of January 9th, when the verdict was disclosed to the public, hundreds of people in San José, capital city of Costa Rica, gathered into one of our most iconic open spaces to party. We know that we have a few brave politicians that know how the system works and how to defy it. And that is what we all are commanded to do: in a world of injustice and inequality, it is necessary for this generation of young leaders to know how to intelligently confront and how to propose innovative solutions to what is oppressing us. Sharing our success stories is important, this one in particular, so we see this effort as a collaboration project, from the core of one nation that stood up, to the wellbeing of many. Keep it up!

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*Santiago Vega is a OYW Ambassador from Costa Rica. He is a Social Entrepreneur and a Political Analyst freelancer and is very passionate about Governance and Social Development, focusing on Latin American issues. Connect with Santiago via Facebook.