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The LGBT rights group Colombia Diversa was founded in 2004 in Bogotá, Colombia.  Noting its accomplishments in improving the lives of LGBT people in Colombia through its human rights reports and advocacy campaigns among other initiatives, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) awarded Colombia Diversa the 2010 Felipa de Souza Award.  Mauricio Albarracín is the Colombia Diversa executive director and is also a co-founder.  For further information, please contact or, for inquiries in English, write to Andrew Dier at


The ‘M’ Word 
By: The City Paper Bogotá
October 4, 2011

Taken from The City Paper Bogotá
After giving the issue a pass in 2010, in July the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled on the question of samesex marriage… sort of.
The unanimous 9-0 ruling was a mostly pro-marriage equality decision. The Court said that same-sex couples can constitute a “family” and told Congress that they must regulate marriage rights for gay couples, granting them the exact same rights as heterosexual couples. It said that if the Congress fails to do so, those equal marriage rights will automatically kick in on June 20, 2013. From that date on, samesex couples will be able to go to any notary public in Colombia and formalize their union. It is unclear if it would be called marriage or not.

While frustrated that the Court didn’t make an immediate and final ruling, gay rights advocates nevertheless mildly celebrated it. And during the weeks immediately following the decision, the Colombian news media carried a constant barrage of stories about the possibility of a referendum to defeat same-sex marriage, legislative proposals on the issue and the threats and concerns voiced about the issue from various notary publics.

So where are we now and what’s likely to happen?

First, some background 

Pro-gay initiatives at the legislative level in Colombia have had a dismal track record. A couple of years after an initiative by controversial Sen. Piedad Córdoba failed, a breakthrough seemed to come in 2006 when a bill on property, social security and other rights was passed both in the Senate and in the lower House.

Sponsored by Sen. Álvaro Araújo, an “Uribista” from the Atlantic Coast, the legislation had support from all of the major parties except for the Conservatives and the evangelical Christian parties. It was an impassioned debate with most arguments from opponents originating from the Bible. The story of Noah’s Ark was even brought up (the animals were brought on board the big boat in heterosexual pairs one Senator stated). The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 49-40. It later sailed through the Cámara by a vote of 62-43, marking the first time a gay rights measure had ever been approved at the national level and catapulting Colombia as the most progressive country in Latin America in terms of gay rights. Having passed both chambers, the bill which provided same-sex couples with the same rights as non-married heterosexual couples (like a common-law marriage) would become the law of the land. Except it didn’t. Members from Christian and other opponents aligned with the Uribe government sabotaged the conciliation of the two bills, a normally routine affair, and despite having passed both chambers, it was killed behind closed doors. It was an unprecedented assault on the democratic process.

Having been betrayed by the nation’s legislators, gay rights activists changed their strategy, exclusively focusing on the judiciary. That would prove to be a wise move. The Constitutional Court would rule in favor of the gay rights movement on various occasions.

The first victory came in February 2007 when gay couples finally won property and inheritance rights previously reserved exclusively for non-married heterosexual couples. To obtain that right there is no need to go to any notary public – it is automatic after two years of living together. Later that year, social security benefits were authorized for same-sex couples and in 2008 the Court ruled in favor of pension benefits. In January 2009, another decisión came from the Court, granting same-sex couples over 42 additional rights, such as visas for same-sex spouses.

 For many in the gay community these newly won rights were enough. Non-married heterosexual and homosexual couples would be treated practically the same under the law. However the right of marriage would provide immediate protection (no need to wait two years) and would be universally understood. It would also, most certainly, affirm gay couples’ rights to jointly adopt children, something that was not mentioned in the court victories.

In Congress’ hands

Congress of Colombia
Within weeks of the ruling in July, four legislative proposals had been announced. Two of the four proposals, including one sponsored by Sen. Armando Benedetti of the U Party and Rep. Alfonso Prada of the Green Party and the other sponsored by Sen. Miguel Gómez, head of the U Party, call for a new civil unión figure for both same-sex and heterosexual couples, which would have exactly the same rights as marriage except for adoption. The third proposal by Liberal Party Senator Guillermo Rivera would change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to a contract between two people but with no right to adoption. A fourth proposal by the Polo Democrático sponsored by Reps. Alba Luz Pinilla and Iván Cepeda is by far the most progressive: it authorizes both equal marriage rights and joint adoption rights.

Discussions are under way to possibly consolidate those legislative initiatives. They could be characterized as the pro-marriage proposal (the Liberal-Polo position) and the civil union proposal (Green-U position).

Although there was talk by the Conservative Party about banning both gay marriage and abortion by changing the Constitution through a referendum, that effort appears to have lost steam.


What are the chances that Congress will actually pass a marriage equality bill? Gustavo Osorio, an attorney who has served as a consultant to gay rights group Colombia Diversa, believes that it is unlikely that Congress will pass any legislation during the next 20 or so months. “The 300 members of Congress are not an intellectual or moral elite, but rather a group that represents the average thinking of their electors. And the majority of the Colombian people do not believe in expanding the definition of marriage,” he said. He finds the situation that the Congress is in to be a strange one, as the Court has told the Congress what kind of law that they must approve. “This shows once again that the Court wants to have the last word. If the Congress thinks differently about the issue, it would be struck down as unconstitutional by the Court.” Nevertheless, he predicted that there will be attempts to show the people of Colombia that the Congress is indeed engaged in the issue, even if they will most likely eventually fail.

In a statement released following the ruling, Marcela Sánchez also expressed skepticism about whether Congress would enact any marriage equality legislation. “Given that the Colombian Congress has not been, nor will be, a place to guarantee rights for the LGBT population, this means that in reality the most probable outcome is that the final verdict on marriage equality has been delayed, and that same-sex partners will be able to get married starting June 20, 2013,” it read.

Sánchez says that marriage rights must be the same rights – with the same name. “We don’t accept legislation for civil unions or the same rights with different names.” She likens that to the “separate but equal” policy in the U.S. South in which buses, theaters, beaches and even water fountains were segregated.

The next struggle

While marriage equality appears to be coming to Colombia in 2013, there remains one contentious area that must be resolved: joint adoption of children by same-sex couples. The Court is expected to take up the issue soon. And since it ruled in July that gay couples can be considered a family, one would expect them to rule favorably about the adoption issue. Gay individuals have had the right to adopt in Colombia since 1991.

Sí to Marriage Equality, But We'll Have to Wait

Bogotá, July 26, 2011

The Colombian Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday afternoon that the Congress must create an equivalent of marriage for same-sex couples by June 20, 2013. If the Congress refuses to act by then, gay couples will automatically have the right to go to any notary public or judge in the country to formalize their union.  The court also ruled that same-sex couples can indeed constitute a family.

Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa said, “This is an historic decision for equality in Colombia.”However she noted that “given the Colombian Congress’ track record in its neglect to guarantee minimal rights for LGBT persons in Colombia in the past, this probably means that same-sex couples will have to wait to finally be treated equal under the law. We look forward to that day when marriage equality becomes a reality.”
Congress has had six opportunities to approve minimal rights for same-sex couples and has failed each time.

The case, a challenge to the Article 113 of the Civil Code which defined marriage as an exclusive contract between a man and a woman with the purpose of procreation, was brought to the Constitutional Court by Colombia Diversa, the legal advocacy group DeJusticia and other organizations and citizens.

Currently, same-sex couples in Colombia have the equivalent of American civil unions that grant them almost all marriage rights except joint adoption. That came as a result from a Constitutional Court ruling in 2007. That case was also brought by Colombia Diversa along with other organizations.

A decision on same-sex couples' adoption rights is pending, and is expected to be made in August.

Still Waiting…
July 22, 2011
Due to an illness of one of the Constitutional Court magistrates, the deadline to decide the fate of marriage equality in Colombia has been pushed back.  The court now has until Tuesday, July 26 to rule.
In the meantime, if you’d like to submit your message of support, from wherever you are, please visit Facebook:!/corteconstitucionaldecolombia or on Twitter: @CConstitucional

Now, we wait

July 14, 2011

The Colombian Constitutional Court is set to decide the most important issues facing same-sex couples in Colombia today:  marriage and adoption.  The court has until July 22 to issue its opinion on the petition presented by LGBT rights group Colombia Diversa along with legal advocates DeJusticia and others.

While the legislative branch has been reluctant to advance any discussion on the issue, on the contrary the court has stood up for the LGBT population on several occasions.   In 2007, because of a court decision in a case also brought by Colombia Diversa, among others, Colombia became the first country in Latin America to authorize social security and pension benefits for same-sex couples.  Since then the court has further expanded same-sex couples’ rights, giving its OK to 30 specific rights that heterosexual common-law couples enjoy. 

Yet, the right to marry and the right to jointly adopt children, continues to be denied gay couples in Colombia. 

Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa, says that while the new rights that same-sex partners enjoy have been important milestones on the path towards equality, they aren’t the same as marriage rights.  “Marriage is the legal classification that provides couples with the most rights and most protection.   Recognizing marriage equality will do away with the second-class status that gay and lesbian Colombians have been subjected to for so long.”

In addition to filing this case, Colombia Diversa has assisted other pro-gay legal challenges, has conducted significant research on marriage rights and has been an important source of information for the Colombian media.  Earlier this year it also launched a Web-based campaign “Sí acepto…” to promote marriage equality (

Bogotá opens two more LGBT community centers

June 27, 2011

In 2007, Bogotá became the first city in Latin America to open an LGBT community center. This week, just after the annual commemoration of Bogotá Pride, the city government is tripling its commitment with two more.

From 2007 to 2010, more than 25,000 people have been served with psychological counseling, legal advice and other activities at the Centro Comunitario LGBT in the gay nightlife district of Chapinero. Originally supported by LGBT rights organization Colombia Diversa, gay nightclub Theatrón and Profamilia, the Colombian International Planned Parenthood affiliate, in conjunction with the city government, today the center is 100% operated and financed by the city.

“Bogotá is a city of rights – diverse and inclusive – and we invite all Bogotanos to get two know those two new centers,” said Olga Beatriz Gutiérrez Tovar, head of IDPAC, the city institute for participation and community action.

One of the new centers in the working-class neighborhood of Bosa is dedicated to LGBTQ youth.

"Young people in Bogotá, whose parents often don’t accept them for who they are, who are told by church leaders that they are sinners and who must hide their sexuality in school for fear of bullying need spaces where they can talk about sexuality issues in a safe and non-judgmental environment,” said Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa. “They need places where they can simply be themselves. LGBT community centers are such places, and are making a positive impact on their lives.”

The second new center is located in the Los Mártires neighborhood and will serve transgendered people.

Sánchez said that with mayoral elections coming this October, it is unclear  whether the three LGBT community centers will continue to be supported by the next mayor. 

Colombia's highest court affirms right of sexual identity expression

June 18, 2011 

In a case concerning a male prisoner who self-identifies as a woman in the rural eastern plains of Colombia, the Colombian Constitutional Court announced this week that it had overturned a lower court ruling that prohibited her from wearing makeup and earrings.

In the lawsuit, Lastra Ortiz, reported intense and constant harassment by prison guards because of her gender identity.

Going far beyond simply overturning the previous decision, the court also ordered sensitivity sessions for corrections staff on LGBT issues. Some training activities have already been undertaken by the Defensoría del Pueblo, a Colombian human rights agency. Additionally, Colombian penal institutions were given four months to reform their policies regarding transsexual and transgender inmates, including development of a non-discrimination policy with regards to conjugal visits and the right to wear women’s clothing for male trans persons.

The situation of LGBT persons in Colombian jails and prisons is a subject of ongoing concern for Colombia Diversa. In its annual LGBT Human Rights Report, the organization has documented several cases of psychological and physical abuse of LGBT persons in Colombian penal institutions. These often affect transgender or transsexual men, but cases of solitary confinement for lesbian couples have been noted as well. One of those cases in the city of Valledupar tragically resulted in suicide.

This is the latest pro-LGBT decision from the court which has in the recent past authorized some of the most advanced protections for same-sex partners in Latin America. The court is expected to rule soon on same-sex marriage as well as adoption by same-sex couples.

In applauding the court decision, Colombia Diversa executive director Marcela Sánchez stressed that this was not a frivolous case.

“This issue can’t be minimized as having to do with mere cosmetic or personal appearances. For the trans population in prisons, whether they are men or women, being able to wear so-called “masculine” or “feminine” clothing has to do with profound aspects of being, of identity and is about the free exercise of sexuality. These are issues linked to human dignity and to the free development of one’s personality: fundamental rights that are guaranteed to all Colombians under our constitution."

Describing her treatment in prison, Ortiz, now at a different prison, told the El Tiempo newspaper that “… guards ordered me and threatened me with cutting my hair – making me bald – like all the other inmates. They didn’t cut my hair, but they told me that at any moment they would tell me to do it and they confiscated my earrings, my make-up kit and my hair ribbons.”