Toni Reis, Brazil, gay news, Washington Blade

Brazilian LGBT activist Toni Reis (Photo courtesy of Toni Reis)

A São Paulo court on Thursday ordered notaries to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples without a judge’s approval.

The decision, which will take effect in Brazil’s most populous state in 60 days, comes after the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court ruled in May 2011 that gays and lesbians can enter into civil unions. A São Paulo judge in June 2011 ruled two men could convert their civil union into a marriage — 206 of these unions have been converted into marriages in the state.

Alagoas in January became the first Brazilian state to extend marriage to same-sex couples without judicial approval, while Bahia on the country’s northeast coast late last month followed suit. Rio Grande do Sol and the Federal District that includes the Brazilian capital of Brasilia also allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The Brazilian government announced in 2003 it would recognize same-sex unions legally performed outside the country for immigration purposes. Authorities in 2008 simplified these regulations.

“It is a very important decision,” gay Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys told the Washington Blade. “And like the Constitution says, in its Article 226, that the state should facilitate the conversation of stable unions into marriage and it also says people are equal under the law, many same-sex partners demanded this in the court. What the judges are doing is complying with the Constitution, recognizing the rights of same-sex partners to enter into civil marriage.”

In spite of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court’s 2011 decision, Rio de Janeiro and many other states have yet to implement it. Wyllys has introduced a proposal that would amend the Brazilian Constitution to recognize same-sex civil marriage throughout the country. A bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot has languished in Congress since the mid-1990s.

“Justice is doing what should have already been done in the Congress and it deserves our applause,” Wyllys said. “The lack of a bill that ends this unjust discrimination, violation of the Federal Constitution and all the international human rights treaties, has left many partners to seek justice. Justice is doing its job well. Those of us who are missing are the lawmakers and the federal government that remains deaf to the call of millions of people who only want to be equal under the law.”

LGBT activist Felipe Pasqualotto shared Wyllys’ criticisms of the Brazilian government’s response to same-sex marriage and other issues.

“Even though São Paulo is just following the Supreme Court decision, it is a big step for Brazil considering we have been quite silent regarding human rights, especially gay [issues,]” he told the Blade.

The São Paulo ruling comes slightly more than a week after the Uruguay House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to legally marry in the South American country. Same-sex couples have been able to tie the knot in neighboring Argentina and Mexico City since 2010.

The Mexican Supreme Court on Dec. 5 unanimously struck down a law in the state of Oaxaca that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. A Colombian Senate committee on the same day approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. (The country’s highest court ruled in June 2011 that gays and lesbians will be able to formalize their relationships in two years if lawmakers don’t tackle the issue.)

Lawyer Alder Martins told the Blade he believes internal Brazilian politics continue to play more of a role in the expansion of legal recognition to same-sex couples than recent developments in other Latin American countries.

“I don’t believe recent developments in Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay have influenced this process,” Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transgenders (ABGLT in Portuguese) added. “It’s a question of implementing Brazilian law.”

Costa Rica to consider legal recognition for gay couples

Meanwhile, the Costa Rican government announced on Monday it supports the extension of limited legal recognition of same-sex couples in the Central American country.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians, but her government urged lawmakers in a Dec. 7 press release to consider once again a measure that would extend inheritance, hospital visitation and other rights to same-sex couples.

“We hope that the Congress will continue to move forward with the bill and discuss the merits of the case and once and for all fill this legal void,” the government said in a press release. “The government urges respect and tolerance during this discussion that will take place in the Congress, the corresponding body which will take up this decision. Similarly it will respect the position of each deputy on this issue.”

The country’s highest court in 2010 struck down a referendum that sought to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Lawmakers who have repeatedly postponed debate on extending legal rights to same-sex couples are scheduled to potentially consider the proposal on April 30. The country’s Roman Catholic church and other religious leaders have spoken out against any attempt to do so.

Francisco Madrigal Ballestero of the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights in Central America (CIPAC,) described the measure to the Blade earlier this week as “a project that was born partly out of fear.” He further categorized it as “an administrative exit to recognize unions with certain aggravating circumstances.”

“It is not either marriage or civil union, it is a legal figure type contract that gives rights to two people to live together,” Madrigal said. “We believe that this project does not solve the problem of citizenship that we have as LGBT populations, and it is for this reason that this project is not supported by the majority of organizations who work on human rights and sexual diversity.”

Madrigal also pointed out “we don’t see a quick exit” on the issue because the Costa Rican Constitutional Court has said it is the responsibility of the country’s Congress to decide the issue. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court could choose to take this particular Costa Rican case,” he said. “We are aware above all the commission, like the court, will take its time to resolve it.”

A CIPAC poll earlier this year found 67 percent of LGBT Costa Ricans support civil unions, compared to only 22 percent who back the president’s proposal and 11 percent who endorse marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“From the people it’s no big deal,” José Chaves, general manager of Gay Tours that operates tours and other activities for gay visitors to Manuel Antonio National Park and other parts of the country, told the Blade. “We are not having manifestations of people in the streets saying like, ‘no, that should not be like that.’ It’s more like ‘of course, let the gay people have the rights and it’s no problem.’ But on the other hand it’s all these people in the government and the church from inside of the government that’s working against it.”

Pete Thelen, a co-owner of the Windy City Times who owns two vacation homes near Manuel Antonio National Park, agreed.

“Most Costa Ricans are a live-and-let-live kind of people, so if it doesn’t affect them, they don’t really mind it,” he told the Blade. “If civil unions would go through, I don’t think it would be a problem for most Costa Ricans. We’ve never had any problems with our neighbors. They’ve accepted us.”