By Thom Senzee
Originally published on Advocate.com August 28 2014 2:56 PM ET
Civil unions will become available to same-sex couples in Ecuador for the first time September 15, giving them many of the same benefits their married heterosexual counterparts already enjoy, reports ThinkProgress.
President Rafael Correa recently promised that all Ecuadorians in civil unions — regardless of the partners' sexual orientation or gender — will have their civil union status reflected on their national identification card. Same-sex couples who enter into a civil union will be entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples in legally recognized marriages or civil unions.
“And if someone is still turned away by a government employee, that employee will be dismissed for denying constitutional rights,” Correa told South American television network Telesur.
Ecuadorians rely on national ID cards to qualify them for many government benefits, some of which are specific to partners in civil unions.
Notably, commited same-sex couples will still not be permitted to legally marry in Ecuador — a reality reflected through much of South America, except for Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, which have enacted marriage equality.
Although it doesn't symbolize complete legal and social equality, LGBT advocates in Ecuador hailed the news as a significant step forward.
“It’s like giving us full citizenship,” Diane Rodriguez, a trans and feminist activist with Ecuadorian group X-Sillhouette, told ThinkProgress. “For example, in emergencies, my partner can make decisions about my health care at a hospital. Or at the bank, we can open a joint account. Before this, couples had a lot of problems because they had no documents to prove they were married.”
Just 17 years ago, homosexuality was illegal in the South American nation, but since then, Ecuador has been on the cutting edge of the slow bu steady global march toward LGBT equality. Both of Ecuador's latest constitutions — one adopted in 1998 and a newer version that replaced it via popular referendum in 2008 — include recognition of LGBT Ecuadorians as a protected class of people.
The Social Inclusion Index of 2014, released annually by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, ranked Ecuador just below the United States and Mexico in terms of protecting LGBT rights. Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina all tied for first place on the LGBT rights portion of the index, beating out the U.S., Mexico, and Ecuador in that category.
President Correa's announcement comes just days after an LGBT group met with him to discuss its report documenting discrimination suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Ecuador because of the lack of recognition of same-sex partnerships, according to ThinkProgress.