SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (CNS) — Costa Rica’s constitutional court has put the brakes on a nationwide vote on same-sex marriages, saying the decision is better left to the legislature than to voters.
The Aug. 10 ruling came after the elections tribunal validated 150,000 signatures, which was more than enough to hold a referendum in December.
“The majority (of the court) considers that the rights of minorities cannot be subject to a referendum process where the majority decide,” the judges said. “The court believes that persons in a same-sex marriage belong to a disadvantaged group and are the object of discrimination, which requires the help of the public powers to recognize their constitutional rights.”
The referendum proposal was vehemently opposed by gay rights activists, who believed that the largely Catholic country would most likely vote against marriages between same-sex couples. Activists wanted to see the decision made by the legislative assembly.
Judges also noted that a negative vote by the electorate would violate international treaties, as Costa Rica would be seen as acting counter to basic human rights. Under Costa Rican law, international treaties supersede the country’s constitution.
Legislators in the left-leaning Citizen Action Party celebrated the decision as a “sign of respect of the rights of minorities and a mature democracy.”
“Since the first day this referendum was mentioned, our party absolutely rejected it,” said legislator Carmen Munoz. “This decision returns hope to us that the day will come in Costa Rica that we recognize and respect human rights and the rights of minority groups.”
She added, “It’s a day that should be celebrated by all minorities in the country, not just by non-heterosexuals, but also by all groups that defend and call for the recognition of their rights.”
Costa Rica is following a trend in Latin America to move toward the recognition of same-sex marriages. Such marriages have been legal in Argentina since July, and, much to the dismay of church officials, the Mexican Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in Mexico City.
The Catholic Church in Costa Rica has responded to the decision by saying that it does not resolve the issue going forward and that the church will continue to stand in opposition of gay unions because they don’t coincide with the word of God.