One year ago today, Costa Rica became the first Central American country to legalize same-sex marriage.
At midnight on May 26, 2020, Costa Rica’s Family Code dropped the sixth item of article 14, which had said marriage between people of the same sex was “legally impossible.”
Minutes later, Daritza Araya Arguedas and Alexandra Quirós Castillo became the first same-sex couple to wed under Costa Rica’s new legal framework. Their small in-person ceremony was streamed online in thousands of homes across the country.
Because of the pandemic, subdued celebrations greeted marriage equality in Costa Rica; there was also very little public backlash, perhaps surprising for a socially conservative country.
“Costa Rica recognizes the rights you always deserved and returns a little of the liberty that so often was limited,” said President Carlos Alvarado. “You, your partners, your families, your children will have the same rights as any other person, couple or family in this country.”
By the end of 2020, more than 500 same-sex couples had married, according to the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE).
Same-sex marriage was a long time coming
While the fight toward marriage equality and LGBT rights in general persisted for decades, the decisive push began in 2016 when Costa Rica asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) to rule on whether it “require[d] states to recognize all patrimonial rights that derive from a same-sex relationship.”
In January 2018, the IACHR issued its landmark verdict: All signatory countries must extend legal rights — including marriage — to same-sex couples.
While the IACHR decision was (theoretically) binding, marriage equality became a hotly contested topic before the 2018 Presidential elections. Carlos Alvarado supported the IACHR’s decision, but candidate Fabricio Alvarado surged in popularity after announcing his opposition.
Carlos Alvarado won a runoff vote against Fabricio in a landslide. Two months after his inauguration, the new president apologized to the LGBTQ community for the decades of discrimination and violence it has faced in Costa Rica.
“On behalf of the Government of the Republic, I ask your forgiveness and I renew my commitment to fight so that this shameful chapter of our history will not be repeated,” he said at the time.
Later that year, Costa Rica’s Supreme Court of Justice agreed with the IACHR that the prohibition on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. It gave Congress 18 months — until May 26, 2020 — to overturn the ban; otherwise it would be repealed automatically.
In keeping with the Costa Rican tradition of government incompetence, the Legislative Assembly ignored its responsibility to legislate. By the time a faction of anti-marriage-equality lawmakers realized the May 26 deadline was looming, it was too late to stop it.
Thus, same-sex marriage became legal on May 26, 2020. While the country is by no means perfect, Costa Rica took a big step toward justice one year ago today.
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