In barely a week, there have been four important court judgements in three American countries that represent important victories for gay marriage and family equality. Immediately after the celebrated judgement in California striking down Proposition 8, the Mexican court ruled that the legal provision for gay marriage in Mexico City was fully constitutional. Yesterday, that same court ruled that marriages in Mexico City must be recognized, and the associated benefits granted, right across all Mexican states. Also yesterday, the court in Costa Rica ruled that a proposed national referendum on civil unions, may not go ahead. There may well be another important advance coming within days: the Mexican court is due to pass judgement on a matter concerning gay adoptions, possibly as soon as tomorrow.
Superficially, the Costa Rican decision may appear the least significant of all three decisions, but I disagree. Although it concerns only civil unions, not full marriage, and the population numbers affected are relatively low, this decision was explicitly based on a fundamentally important matter of principle: the rights of a minority cannot be decided by a majority vote.[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="269" caption="A Rainbow Future for Costa Rica"][/caption]
The Constitutional Court's 5-2 decision released Tuesday says such a referendum would put a minority at a disadvantage in a largely Roman Catholic country. It also says gay civil unions is a legislative issue and not an electoral one. The court says it considers homosexuals a group that is at a disadvantage and the target for discrimination, requiring government authorities to protect their rights.
It is still too early to say what is the future for gay marriage in Costa Rica. There may be no progress in the short term, or the legislature may feel emboldened by the progress in Argentina, coupled with this decision, to move ahead.
Whatever the Costa Rican politicians decide for now, one thing is clear: across Latin America, the momentum is now on the side of family equality. Sooner rather than later, same sex marriage and gay adoption will spread right across the continent - and the Catholic church will be no more able to prevent it than they were in Argentina. Then, faced with a fait accompli, the bishops in the region with more Catholics than any other, will have to work with the reality all around them.