Despite Attacks from the Right Wing, El Salvador's LGBT Movement Continues the Fight for Human Rights and Dignity

by Alexandria Soleil and Maggie Von Vogt

On April 20, 2009, various organizations and individuals from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community of El Salvador rallied in front of the Legislative Assembly to protest an unwarranted attack on their civil rights. Legislative Assembly Deputy Rodolfo Parker has reignited efforts to pass an amendment that would specify that marriage only be between a man and a woman and deny same sex couples the right to adopt a child. Activists from various NGOs and LGBT networks joined to demonstrate their presence and present a counter-amendment that would expand constitutional rights in the country rather than deny them.

The NGOs have never requested the right to same sex marriage, noting that in El Salvador, it is not a priority for the movement. “None of us have asked for marriage. Here people are dying of hunger, a lot of people don’t have homes, the hospitals are out of medicine, people with HIV don’t have the treatment they need; why do you think that marriage is important to us?” said Wiliam Hernandez, director of the LGBT advocacy organization Entre Amigos.

Rodolfo Parker is by profession a lawyer, as well as the Secretary of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and one of the most conservative members of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly.  This is his second term on the Legislative Assembly, and he serves on the Commission on Family, Women, and Children. He will continue serving in the 2009-2012 session of the Legislative Assembly, which starts on May 1st, 2009.

This amendment was first approved in 2006, but because of a change in the Magna Carta, the Assembly needs to ratify it with 56 votes in order for it to go into affect. The current Legislative Assembly session ends on April 30th, 2009.

Currently the proposal lacks 4 votes to be ratified, and those votes would need to come from Deputies representing the leftist party Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).  The FMLN is the only party that has not taken an official stance on the proposal, and is being pressured from both sides to take a position.  The party is in a unique position at this point, having just defeated the right wing party ARENA in the presidential elections for the first time since the Civil War ended, and also having picked up 3 more seats in the Legislative Assembly in the January legislative elections. The FMLN has a progressive social and economic platform, specifically focusing on sectors of the population such as women and youth.  At this point the party platform does not address the issue of equal rights for LGBT people.

According to Parker, this amendment is not an effort to exclude, but a legal declaration that marriage would only be considered as between a man and a woman.  In an April 23rd article in the national newspaper El Diario de Hoy, Parker stated, “There can be legal unions between them, but this is not marriage.” Although it has received less coverage in mainstream media and popular discourse, the amendment would also make it illegal for same-sex couples to adopt a child.

Parker’s proposal has the backing of the Archbishop of San Salvador José Luis Escobar Alas, who also came to the Legislative Assembly on April 20th to present 200,000 signatures from various Salvadoran citizens and members of the Catholic and Evangelical Churches backing the proposal and urging the Legislative Assembly to consider same sex marriage “immoral”.  “This is not a prohibition, but rather a protection of the essence of marriage… A society that permits and tolerates this type of life loses its level of morality,” the Archbishop said (El Diario de Hoy, 20 April, 2009).  The Archbishop reemphasized his plea that the Assembly ratify the amendment on Sunday April 26, stressing that, “they only have a few hours left to approve something that the population will be grateful for” (El Diario de Hoy, 26 April, 2009).

While this situation is seen by many as an attempt by Parker to gain personal recognition and impose a conservative political agenda, it has also put the LGBT movement on the defense, requiring that activists spend limited time and resources fighting back against this attack instead of continuing with their work of education, advocacy, and support.

We spoke with Joaquín Cáseres, Project Coordinator of the Salvadoran Association of Human Rights, Association Entre Amigos, to understand more regarding strategy and next steps in this fight.  Just before sitting down with us, he facilitated all the activists and supporters present in signing a letter to the Assembly proposing that Article 3 of the Constitution, which establishes that all people are equal before law, be expanded to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.  “Proposing an expansion of Article 3 of the Constitution is a situation much more expansive than talking about restricting rights that have already been won, because you cannot take rights away from people who are citizens of this country-- people like us…it would be better to consider the proposal we are making, so that people’s rights would be respected in much broader terms, and not discriminated against, such as what Mr. Parker is doing, ¨ he explained.

This proposal is in the beginning stages.  It was submitted on Monday April 20th to the Legislative Assembly, then it needs to be evaluated by the Assembly and the groups must lobby the various political parties in the Assembly for its support.

In the case that Parker’s reform is ratified, Cáseres explained that they plan to respond.  “The step that we want to take is to put forth a demand of unconstitutionality in the Supreme Court of Justice, because, as we explain it, this reform is countermining established rights that are guaranteed by this same Constitution and International Law.”  These organizations have a support network based in the legal and human rights sectors to help with the paperwork and legal proceedings.

On Thursday, April 23rd, activists convened again in front of the Legislative Assembly to see if Parker’s proposal would move forward as it was reviewed. Many people thought that this would be the day that the proposal would be approved, but again, it did not win the number of votes needed to pass.  The FMLN explained that the text needed more corrections. It is unclear at this point if the FMLN wants corrections to be made to the document for minor changes or because they perceive the proposal as unconstitutional.

As this Legislative Assembly session winds to a close, the question will be answered of whether Parker’s amendment to change the Constitution will pass.  Regardless, the activists who have convened will continue working in their various networks and communities to address the deep-seeded structural and societal challenges LGBT Salvadorans face, and towards a future of equal rights and freedom of expression.

Alexandria Soleil is a US-Latin America solidarity activist from Wyoming. She recently graduated from Seattle University with majors in International Studies and Spanish. She currently works with young people in San Salvador.  She can be reached at: adelantesoleil(at)

Maggie Von Vogt is a Philadelphia-based educator, independent journalist, and social justice organizer who works with Media Mobilizing Project and Labor Justice Radio. She is currently living in El Salvador. You can reach her at: maggievonvogt(at)

Special thanks to Marvin Orellana for his guidance in writing this article.

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