The Colombian Senate says no to gay marriage bill

During passionate and aggressive speeches, lawmakers used religious and legal arguments

A protestor in favor of gay marriage in Bogotá, Colombia. / Leonardo Muñoz (EFE)

After two vote delays and in the midst of an intense debate among lawmakers, who made use of legal and religious arguments, the Colombian Senate late Wednesday rejected a bill that would have legalized gay marriage.

In a 51-to-17 vote, the legislation was turned down after a second discussion.

Passionate and aggressive speeches, which went on for more than six hours, were delivered in the upper chamber on Tuesday. Because of the long session, the Senate speaker ordered lawmakers back on Wednesday for the final vote.

Thousands of supporters and opponents of gay marriage held rallies in Bogota’s emblematic Bolívar Plaza outside of Congress as they waited for the final tally. “We won’t shut up, we won’t shut up – marriage is between a man and a woman,” opponents shouted.

If the notaries interpret that they cannot issue marriage licenses, then we are going to take action"

Inside Congress, conservative senators used a barrage of religious arguments against homosexuality, including lodging statements that were seen as discriminatory. One lawmaker Roberto Gerlein – who raised eyebrows during the first debate when he called homosexual sex “sickening” and described it as “excremental” – this time labeled it as “scatology, inane sex that is incapable of generating life and sex that is practiced for recreational purposes.”

Nevertheless, gay activists said they have not yet been defeated. Two years ago the Colombian Constitutional Court gave lawmakers a June 20, 2013 deadline to pass a law to legalize same sex unions. From that date, the court said, same sex couples would be able to go before a civil notary to legally register their unions and begin establishing families, just as heterosexuals can.

“On June 20, we are going to go before the notaries and courts just like the Constitutional Court ordered,” said Marcela Sánchez, director of the LGBT NGO Diverse Colombia. “I think the court knew that nothing was going to happen [in Congress]. If the notaries interpret that they cannot issue marriage licenses, then we are going to take action and it will be up to the Constitutional Court, once again, to decide whether there will be gay marriage.”

Justice Minister Ruth Stella Correa said that she will issue directives to explain “the legal position that corresponds” to the notaries’ duties, but she did not explain what they would entail.

Armando Benedetti, the architect of the bill from La U party, to which President Juan Manuel Santos belongs, warned about a week ago that the bill would probably die in the Senate, which would lead to the conclusion that Congress “isn’t worth anything.”

Benedetti also acknowledged that his own party had formed a pact with the Conservatives to vote against the measure.

Alejandro Ordóñez, who served as attorney general on several occasions, said that he believed that the proposed law was unconstitutional because Colombian “law only addresses unions between a man and a woman.”

The Catholic Church also led a fierce battle against the measure.

In 2007, the Constitutional Court gave same-sex unions certain privileges, such as inheritance rights, pensions and social security, but it did not allow them to marry or adopt children.

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