It’s the single biggest victory for marriage equality and gender identity rights. A ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ordered 16 countries to legalise same-sex marriage.
On Tuesday, the court issued a sweeping decision that not only dealt with marriage equality but also gender identity rights. It impacts 20 countries that have agreed to abide by the court’s rulings.
Four of these countries, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay already have marriage equality, but the rest do not. These are: Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Suriname.
The court said in a statement, “that the family bond of same-sex couples should be protected, without any discrimination”.
It ruled that the simplest and most effective way to ensure this is “to extend existing institutions to same-sex couples – including marriage”.
Significantly, it rejected the concept of separate civil unions or partnerships for same-sex couples – as is offered in Chile and Ecuador – as simply not being a good enough.
The judges argued that to “create an institution that produces the same effects and empowers the same rights as marriage, but that does not have that name has no meaning…” and will only serve to “indicate a difference, if not stigmatise, or at least indicate a sign of underestimation”.
The court considered that opposition to same-sex marriage is often based on religious or philosophical convictions. It acknowledged the important role played by these convictions in the life and dignity of the people who profess them, but said that they cannot be used to justify “discrimination based on sexual orientation” in a democratic and secular state.
Costa Rica, which was the country to take the matter to the court, has already agreed to uphold the decision, but it is not yet clear how the other countries affected will respond.
Costa Rica’s government applauded the ruling. “Loving is a human condition that deserves the same recognition and protection from the State, without excuses, without differences, without stigma, without violence, without discrimination, without strangeness and without any kind of accusations,” commented Vice President Ana Helena Chacón on Twitter.
She said that the decision “marks a before and after for our region in terms of human rights in favor of the LGTBI population” and that it “is binding for the countries that are part of the Inter-American System”.
The decision was also welcomed by hundreds of LGBTI people and supporters in Costa Rica who gathered in the capital San José with a huge rainbow flag to celebrate the landmark victory for equality. They cheered: “The court said, yes!”
The court’s ruling on the issue of gender identity was also far reaching. It said that the “right to gender and sexual identity is linked to the concept of freedom and the possibility of every human being to self-determine and freely choose the options and circumstances that give meaning to their existence, according to their own choices and convictions”.
The judges ruled that, “As a consequence, States are obliged to recognise, regulate and establish the appropriate procedures” to ensure that registers and identity documents are consistent with individuals’ “self-perceived gender identity”.
It added that States “must not demand medical or psychological certifications that are unreasonable or pathological” in order to do this.
This decision will affect 11 countries that do not currently allow transgender people to change their gender without surgical procedures.