El Salvador Bans Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Adoption Rights in Last Minute Constitutional Amendment

After weeks of public debate and protest, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved an amendment to the constitution to ban marriage between same-sex couples and same-sex couples’ ability to adopt a child.  This amendment was proposed in the final hours of the current Legislative Assembly session, which ends April 30th.

“Marriage is only for men and women, born that way.  It remains consecrated in our country that this is not possible for same-sex couples,” (El Diario de Hoy, 30 April 2009) announced Rodolfo Parker, the major proponent of the amendment.

In the period of time leading up to this ratification, the amendment lacked 4 votes to pass.  Those votes needed to come from deputies of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).  On Monday, April 27, the party announced that it would not support the amendment because of concerns that it was discriminatory.   The wording of the amendment was negotiated to include the phrase,  “The State shall foment marriage, but the lack of it will not effect the enjoyment of the rights established by law,” after which it attained the number of votes needed to pass.

Politicians have experienced pressure from The Church to ratify the amendment.  Various Catholic and Evangelical leaders publicly targeted the FMLN for not supporting the amendment, particularly San Salvador’s Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas.  On April 20th Alas presented the Assembly with 300,000 signatures in support of the reform and has made various public statements urging the FMLN to cast the necessary votes for it to pass.

On Sunday, April 27th, Luigi Pezzuto, who is the Papal Nuncio, or permanent diplomatic representative of Pope Benedict XVI, officially backed Alas, emphasizing the importance of protecting the essence of marriage, and stating that the amendment was not discriminatory.

LGBT activists, who have focused their work on providing education, services, and human rights accompaniment to LGBT Salvadoran, immediately mobilized in response.   “Here the Church has taken a position that does not respect that El Salvador is a secular state.  It has wanted to dominate and get involved in situations that are not its duty.  We have maintained that if the reform passes, El Salvador loses…in terms that, first, we are a secular state, and second that the Catholic Church does not represent 100% of the citizens, in religion, nor in quantity,” said Wiliam Hernandez, Executive Director of the organization Associación Entre Amigos (Between Friends), in an April 28th press conference.

Hernandez and Entre Amigos are part of The Alliance for LGBT Diversity, a network of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals and organizations.   The Alliance has organized a variety of protests, press conferences, vigils, and written a counter amendment proposing the expansion of Article 3 of the nation’s constitution to include sexuality, gender identity, and disability in the non-discrimination clause.

“We are not asking for marriage, only equality” has been the resounding message the Alliance has put forth.  Though Parker’s amendment has put LGBT activists on the defensive, it has also brought many new people into the network and forced discussion of LGBT issues into the spotlight.  LGBT activists in El Salvador face regular death threats and harassment for their work.

Activist and law student Andrea Ayala explained her presence at one of the many demonstrations the Alliance held in front of the Legislative Assembly, “Personally I am not asking them for marriage, because, well, I think we are light years away from this…I simply ask that they do not obstruct our rights to equality.  Our right to equality is protected in the United Nations Human Rights Charter...For me, as a lesbian, it is humiliating that they are trying to continue obstruct the right that we have to freely exercise our sexuality.”

At this point in time, the Alliance is analyzing the situation before determining next steps.  Representatives have stated that if the amendment passed they would plan to take legal action for the violation of established rights that are guaranteed by the nation’s constitution and international law.

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