LGBT+ campaigners are calling for Panama to introduce marriage equality after stalling on the issue for four years.
Panama is now sandwiched between two nations which both have legal same-sex marriage. Colombia, to the south, passed its equal marriage law in 2016. Meanwhile Costa Rica’s first same-sex couples wed last month.
However, Panama’s Supreme Court has delayed on marriage equality lawsuits for four years.
Meanwhile there are at least two other legal challenges demanding same-sex marriage in the Central American country.
Carlos González Ramírez, lawyer for Morgan and Morgan, is representing people in all four cases.
He said ‘we have no explanation’ why the cases have dragged on so long.
Meanwhile a decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said all the court’s member nations should allow same-sex marriage. However, Panama has still failed to act.
Iván Chanis is president of Panama human rights organization Fundacion Iguales, and an LGBT+ campaigner. He said (translated):
‘Panama also damages its international image and international commitments regarding human rights.
‘Following the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, both Ecuador and Costa Rica complied in recognizing civil marriages for same-sex couples. Panama stands out, but it does it in a negative way, by ignoring this decision.’
‘Against God’s plan’
Panama’s LGBT+ campaigners have already had a long battle to try to secure marriage equality.
In 2004, the Asociacion Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panama, proposed civil unions to give basic rights to same-sex couples in the country.
However, the Roman Catholic Church mounted a vicious campaign against the proposal. The church claimed the idea was ‘against God’s plan’ and ‘detrimental to the family’.
As a result, the proposal never went ahead.
Then, five out of seven candidates in the 2014 presidential election signed a document promising to protect the ‘traditional family’.
It stated ‘the country should guarantee freedom of religion’ and change the law to ensure marriage is ‘defined as the union of a man and a woman’.
In May that year, Panama banned same-sex marriage and said it wouldn’t recognize such marriages from other countries.
Moreover, the National Assembly voted in 2019 to put a constitutional ban on marriage equality. It will have to vote on the issue again this year before putting it to a referendum.
Meanwhile, in 2016, a couple who had married abroad went to the Supreme Court to demand Panama recognizes their marriage.
Another lawsuit in March 2017 also appealed against Panama’s law against same-sex marriage. And a lesbian couple joined the legal battle in 2018.
The court has agreed to hear the cases but has failed to take action.
That’s despite the fact that Attorney General Rigoberto González asked the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage. He accepted the idea is controversial but said allowing marriage is in line with Panama’s constitution.
One Supreme Court justice has published a draft ruling rejecting the cases. But the court subsequently withdrew that ruling. Lawyers expected it to rule again in December 2018 and have been waiting ever since.
Panama must follow court ruling and allow equal marriage
However, in the meantime, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of marriage equality.
It’s ruling covers all member states, including Panama, and has already led to Costa Rica equalising its marriage laws.
Isabel Saint Malo, was Panama’s vice president at the time. She announced the country would fully abide by the ruling.
Moreover, the attorney general has announced that the country cannot ignore the court’s ruling as it is fully binding on Panama.
But while the Supreme Court has indicated it will bear in mind the Inter-American court’s decision, it has still not acted.
The court’s unwillingness to rule on the case may be because Panama’s people remain opposed to marriage equality.
Again the Catholic Church and other religious groups have led the way in whipping up opposition to equality.
But a 2017 poll showed 78% of Panamanians opposed same-sex marriage and only 22% support it. That’s a figure that hasn’t shifted since at least 2013.
The Inter-American Court’s decision also applies to Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Suriname.
Meanwhile the court’s other member countries Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay now offer same-sex marriage.