Colombia high court formally legalizes same-sex marriage

Colombia’s highest court on Thursday formally extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Reports indicate the Colombian constitutional court’s 6-3 ruling in a case says the process to obtain a marriage license will become the same for couples of the same- or opposite-sex. The decision also stipulates that judges and notaries cannot refuse to marry a gay or lesbian couple because of their religious beliefs. It remains unclear as to whether the ruling — which came in a case brought by six same-sex couples — will immediately go into effect.

“The Constitutional Court gives the definitive yes and supports marriage equality,” said Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, on its Twitter page shortly after the court announced its decision.

1 Man + 1 Woman, a group that describes itself as “social movement comprised of distinct organizations that are looking to strengthen the family between one man and one woman, blasted the ruling. “Their rulings are neither above anyone’s conscience, nor above the constitution,” it said in a statement, referring to Article 18 of the Colombian constitution that guarantees freedom of conscience. “We are therefore not obligated to accept them or adhere to them when they have clearly not emerged from the popular will.” 1 Man + 1 Woman also said judges and notaries can refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Thursday’s ruling comes in a case that six same-sex couples who were seeking marriage rights in Colombia brought. The court held a hearing on the issue last July in the Colombian capital of Bogotá. The Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law in D.C., the New York City Bar Association and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson submitted testimony in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The court ruled in 2011 that same-sex couples could register their relationships within two years if Colombian lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

Legislators in the South American country subsequently defeated a same-sex marriage bill.

A handful of gay and lesbian couples in Bogotá and other Colombian cities have exchanged vows since the court’s deadline passed in 2013. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.

The court issued a landmark ruling last November that extended adoption rights to same-sex couples. A separate decision it announced earlier this month rejected a resolution that would have denied same-sex couples the right to call their unions a marriage. Reports indicate Thursday’s ruling also converts more than 70 “solemn unions” between same-sex couples that have taken place in Colombia since 2013 into marriages. “The decision is great news for the six couples involved,” Hunter T. Carter of the New York City Bar Association told the Washington Blade on Thursday from the Colombian city of Medellín where he lives with his husband. “It is a robust rejection of the idea that legal civil marriage is only between one man and one woman,” added Carter.

Colombia joins Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa and more than a dozen other countries in which same-sex couples can marry. Gays and lesbians have been able to legally tie the knot across the U.S. since June 26, 2015. The Colombia constitutional court announced its ruling a year to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Obergefell case that challenged the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.