Colombia's Constitutional Court has held that government benefits must be equalized between heterosexual and same-sex couples. (Caveat: the opinion is in Spanish, so this post is based entirely on news reports.) The court upheld a lower court opinion that ruled that same-sex couples must be accorded the same benefits as heterosexual couples in common-law marriages. This ruling, together with one in 2007, means that same-sex couples will have equal pension, survivor, immigration and property rights. The court reportedly relied on equality and autonomy grounds, and cited both the national constitution and international law.
Today, January 27, 2009, the Constitutional Court brought the country one step forward – a fundamental one – in matters of human rights. The High Tribunal acknowledged that a number of civil, political, social, economic, criminal and immigration rights, among others – previously reserved for heterosexual couples, also apply to same-sex couples.
In this way, Colombia has made progress in fulfilling its international commitment to incorporate Equality into its domestic legal norms, on behalf of a population that has historically been vulnerable due to their sexual orientation. Eighteen years after the enactment of the 1991 Constitution, [promoting] equality between all people, this principle has effectively been by lifting a series of limitations in Colombia that weighed down on rights, depending to the sexual orientation of individuals.
It was confirmed that equal rights cannot allow qualifications, nor exceptions nor mitigating circumstances that depend on sexual orientation.
The path that led to the Court's recent ruling began with a lawsuit. On April 28, 2008, Colombia Diversa, The Law, Justice and Society Study Center (Dejusticia), and The Public Interest Rights Group of the University of Los Andes, filed a lawsuit seeking equal rights between permanent partners, heterosexual and homosexual, and thus eliminate all forms of discrimination.
The lawsuit was actively supported by a diverse group of 32 human rights organizations, most of which do not represent an exclusive advocacy for LGBT rights. Such was the case with Human Rights Watch, the Colombian Commission of Jurists and Sisma Woman among many others (see list). Their primary interest was to bring domestic legislation in Colombia closer to a genuine concept of Equality.
Rights and responsibilities recognized
Specifically, it was a claim of unconstitutionality en masse against a series of laws that guarantee these rights and responsibilities to unmarried heterosexual couples, so that same-sex couples could be included as beneficiaries.
The plaintiffs asked the Court to extend the protections inherent in all rights afforded to heterosexual partners in a common-law union, to same sex-couples. At the same time, there was a request for the same order of duties and responsibilities for both types of couples.
In short, the rights and responsibilities that were demanded and recognized by the Court are related to:
- Civil rights norms which establish limitations to the access and exercise of civil service and the establishment of contracts with the State.
- Civil and political rights, such as housing protections, so that the so-called 'family patrimony' cannot be seized and [establishes] joint family housing rights [la afectación de vivienda familiar].
- Access to a Colombian nationality, and residence in the department of San Andres and Providencia.
- The right to benefits, allowances and compensation measures of a social nature in favor of same-sex couples.
- This is the case with the special social security norms that apply to public law enforcement, family allowance, family allowance for housing, subsidies for rural access to property, and indemnity coverage for death in a traffic accident of a permanent partner.
- Crime punishment and prevention norms, misconduct and the guarantee not to incriminate a partner.
- Rights for permanent partners of victims of heinous crimes.
This new decision makes me even more excited about the upcoming Global Arc of Justice Conference at UCLA (March 11-14), where the primary focus will be on Latin America. One of the speakers will be Colombia human rights lawyer German Rincon Perfetti, who has been involved with relationship recognition issues there for many years.