On 13th April 2015 Chilean President Bachelet signed into law the legalisation of same-sex unions, and a week ago the law came into effect. Although this progress is welcome Bachelet’s re-election included a campaign promise that wasn’t civil union legalisation; his pledge was to legalise same-sex marriage. What this shows is that even in Chile, which is a religiously conservative country, the LGBT community is becoming more socially accepted. Same-sex marriage in Chile may not be that far off.
Although this progress in Chile is in encouraging, there are a number of other countries in the region where the LGBT community faces very real obstacles to equality. The most serious situation exists in the small country of Guyana. Not only are LGBT people not given the same legal protections from discrimination, but homosexual acts in Guyana are actually illegal. In Guyana having sex with someone of the same sex will result in a sentence of between two years and life in prison depending on the circumstances. Despite this current situation the Guyanese government, on recommendation from the UN to combat HIV/AIDS, have opened a consultation on whether to decriminalise homosexuality. If the Guyanese government pushes forward with this step, homosexuality will be decriminalised or legal across the whole of South America, which would be a huge symbolic moment for the global LGBT rights movement.
There are six countries that have specific legal discrimination against the LGBT community due to statues that specifically ban same-sex marriage or deliberately leave same-sex couples unrecognised. In Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Venezuela there are constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Unfortunately the polling in all these countries show there is not public support for equal marriage, which I presume is because of the influential position of the Catholic Church in these countries.
However there is some progress to report. In Ecuador there is a nationwide movement to bring in equal marriage however there two political facts to point out. Firstly, of the eight presidential candidates at the last election only two supported same-sex marriage and one of the political parties that backed put forward one of those two candidates has since dissolved. Second is that, unlike European leftists who support socialism alongside LGBT rights, President Rafael Correa has repeatedly stated his opposition to same-sex marriage.
In 2013 Venezuelan LGBT activists submitted a bill to be debated in the National Assembly which would legalise same-sex marriage, although it has still not been debated. In Suriname same-sex couples haven’t been granted marriage or civil unions and the age of consent for homosexuals is still two years higher than heterosexuals.
The Vice President of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, said in April 2015 that the issue of same-sex partnerships should be discussed “sooner rather than later”. In September 2015 the largest LGBT rights group in Bolivia presented the ‘Family Life Agreement’ to the Legislative Assembly which would legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
Peruvian legislation to legalise civil unions has been repeatedly proposed, most recently in March 2015, but this was rejected by the Peruvian Justice Committee by a 7-4 vote with 2 absences and 2 abstentions. Due to the closeness of the vote I do believe that Peru may be one to watch for the near future, especially given that demographically the people who support same-sex marriage the most are young people and those living in Lima.
Unfortunately the biggest struggle, other than Guyana, is in Paraguay where the LGBT rights movement is not as strong as in other South American countries. According to the most recent Pew Research poll, only 15% of people support equal marriage with a breathtaking 80% opposed; we must stand in solidarity with the activists on the ground but a way of challenging these attitudes would be to make progress in other parts of South America.
The LGBT movement in South America has always been surprising as the strength of the Catholic Church would imply that many people would be opposed to LGBT rights, especially equal marriage yet progress has been made in some of the most populous countries. Same-sex marriage may be legal in French Guiana, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, along with legal same-sex unions in Colombia, Chile and Ecuador, but there is still a long way to go before the whole of the South American LGBT community to achieve equality in the eyes of society.
By continuing to convince young people that LGBT people deserve equal rights and protections under the law progress will come, but we are also now in the unusual situation of being in 2015 and still having to overcome a huge polling deficit to bring about change. Let’s stand in solidarity with the South America LGBT community and show that people around the world are united to bring about equality.