(Reuters) – Susel Paredes often finds herself in dangerous situations, donning a bulletproof vest to lead high-profile police operations and breaking up cartels of street vendors in one of the grittier parts of Peruvian capital Lima.
Now the short, curly-haired city official is taking on a more personal battle; legalising gay marriage in the conservative, majority-Catholic country, and getting recognition for the Miami wedding to her wife in 2016.
Paredes, 55, a lawyer by training, and her wife, Gracia Aljovin, legally challenged a decision by Peru’s national identification registry, Reniec, which had rejected their request to validate their marriage for legal purposes.
But in a landmark April 4 ruling, a local court said authorities must treat the couple’s marriage as any other, and that failing to do so would be discriminatory and unconstitutional.
“What we’ve done with our marriage is launch strategic litigation”, Paredes told Reuters in an interview last week.
“We want to trigger a legal process that moves us toward obtaining the equal right to marriage in Peru”, she added.
Peru is one of just a handful of countries in Latin America to not have at least partially recognised same-sex unions.
Reniec, which maintains Peru’s records of birth, marriage and divorce, argues it cannot recognise gay marriages celebrated abroad because they cannot be performed legally in Peru. It has appealed the ruling, setting the stage for a battle that could ultimately give gay couples the right to wed legally.
For years, same-sex couples in Peru have pushed Reniec to recognise their marriages abroad, but none had yet won a ruling in local courts. Paredes’ image as a fearless enforcer of the law has drawn more attention to the battle, even as it has prompted a backlash from some prominent figures.
“A judge has basically said that God was wrong, that it’s not just man and woman (who can marry)”, Peru’s Catholic Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani said in an interview with local broadcaster RPP after the ruling.
Paredes, who is Catholic, vowed to take the battle to the country’s top court, the Constitutional Tribunal, if necessary. If she and Aljovin lose there, they said they will take it to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which can order Peru, as a member state, to heed its rulings.
In the meantime, Paredes, a former teenage telenovela actress, has urged other gay people in Peru to come out.
“Christ said the truth will set you free. That’s why I call on you to come out of the closet”, she said in broadcast comments to local media.
“Who can be happy leading two lives?”
-Reuters TV, Writing by Mitra Taj