Lawmakers and government officials in Costa Rica on Wednesday chided fellow politicians trying to delay a landmark gay marriage ruling, an effort which ended in a punch-up between members of a leading political party.
Costa Rica’s constitutional court voted in August 2018 to legalise gay marriage, with the ruling to take effect on May 26 of this year.
The decision made Costa Rica the first country in socially conservative Central America to recognise the right of same-sex couples to marry.
On Tuesday, more than 20 lawmakers attempted to introduce a motion to delay the ruling another 18 months, arguing legislators had not had enough time to review the decision because of other issues, including the novel coronavirus.
Rights activists, politicians, and government officials say the push from conservatives to delay same-sex marriage detracted from efforts to address the pandemic, given the constitutional court has ruled on the matter.
“There are many other issues that we as a country need to resolve, especially in the face of the emergency we are confronting due to the global pandemic,” said Luis Salazar, presidential commissioner for LGBTI population affairs.
“It’s a waste of time in the sense that the issue is … settled,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The dispute came to blows on Tuesday, when deputy David Gourzong of the National Liberation Party (PLN) physically attacked the legal advisor to fellow PLN deputy, Gustavo Viales, local media reported.
Gourzong apologised on Twitter late Tuesday, tweeting:
“It’s clear to me that neither verbal nor physical violence is the way to resolve differences.”
Lawmakers would need 38 votes in Costa Rica’s 57-member assembly to bring the issue to the top of the agenda, otherwise it is unlikely to be taken up before the May 26 deadline.
Enrique Sanchez, Costa Rica’s first openly gay congressman with the centre-left Citizens’ Action Party, said there was little chance of conservatives gaining the necessary majority.
“It’s been a shameful spectacle,” he said.
“It gives me peace of mind that this will possibly die from tomorrow, and there will be no going back.”
Legalising gay marriage was a major campaign promise by President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who took office in 2018.
Rights activists fear that reopening the issue could re-ignite the fierce debate that roiled the election.
“The moment the topic is placed on the table again and the (country’s) polarisation is exposed, hate speech starts to rise and physical assaults begin,” said Margarita Salas, an LGBT+ rights campaigner and president of the VAMOS political party.
“It seems like a reflection of deep homophobia that, in the midst of a pandemic, they want to reopen these issues.”
Same-sex marriage has become increasingly accepted in Latin America, with gay couples allowed to marry in Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, and parts of Mexico
-Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib – Thomson Reuters Foundation