Waldlaw Blog

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What We Could Learn from Costa Rica

I'm just back from a few days in the Costa Rican jungle, visiting my mother-in-law (yes, I am lucky to have a particularly interesting and adventurous mother-in-law).

I went to Costa Rica directly following the national conference of the National LGBT Bar Association in Miami (commonly referred to as Lavender Law), where marriage equality and the recent California decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger were on everyone's minds. In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, one of the primary issues being discussed is whether a majority of voters can vote to discriminate against a minority group regarding access to marriage. The "No on Prop 8" folks say that it undermines our constitutional democracy to allow a majority of voters to strip rights from a historically discriminated-against minority by popular vote; the "Yes on Prop 8" folks say that it undermines our constitutional democracy to allow the courts to override the will of the popular majority.

And what does Costa Rica have to say about all this??

Well, it just so happens that Costa Rica -- long committed to their constitution and their record on human rights -- has just confronted this same issue. On August 10, 2010, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica ruled 5-2 to disallow a nationwide referendum -- sponsored by the Catholic Church -- on whether Costa Rica should recognize same-sex civil unions. The court based its ruling on its concern that allowing the referendum to go forward would target gay Costa Ricans for discrimination and violate their rights under international law. The court further held that minority rights cannot be subject to majority approval.

As liberal as Costa Rica is, it nevertheless amazes me that we -- in the United States -- may need to look south to our historically extremely Catholic Latin neighbors for guidance on how to promote equality for our lesbian and gay citizens.


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