Colombia must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples within two years, the nation's Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday.
The Colombian Congress must create an equivalent of marriage for gay couples by June 20, 2013, or else couples will automatically gain the right to go to any judge or notary public to formalize their union, according to the ruling. The country already offers civil unions, which grant almost all marriage rights.
The decision came in a case brought by the gay rights group Colombia Diversa, the legal aid group DeJusticia, and other organizations and citizens to challenge the nation's law defining marriage as an exclusive contract between a man and a woman with the purpose of procreation.
"This is an historic decision for equality in Colombia," Colombia Diversa executive director Marcela Sanchez said in a statement. Colombia Diversa had joined other organizations in bringing an earlier suit that resulted in civil union rights for gay couples in 2007. She held out little hope, however, for action from the Congress, which has considered and defeated six bills for marriage equality.
The Congress appears split on the issue, according to the news site Colombia Reports. "The constitution is clear in arguing that marriage is between a man and a woman, not same-sex," said Juan Manuel Corzo, the conservative chairman of the Senate. Liberal Party director Rafael Prado, though, noted that while many religious groups oppose marriage equality, "the church is the church, but political decisions and rights are issues that we in politics have an obligation to address. We defend those rights and it is clear that same-sex couples should have equal [rights]."
Colombia would be the second country in South America to grant marriage rights to gay couples, after Argentina. Several nations on the continent offer civil unions or other marriage-like partnerships,