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Costa Rica Votes 'Pura Vida' For All

Costa Rica Votes “Pura Vida” For All

With the election of its new president, the country sets a precedent in Latin America for LGBT equality. 

One of the first lessons my father taught my sister and me was about finding our own moral compass. Having moved to the United States at 17 from San Jose, Costa Rica, the son of a traveling preacher, he instilled in us the true meaning of the country's cultural philosophy: "Pura Vida," or Pure Life.

For Costa Ricans, "Pura Vida" is more than a friendly motto written on hats or T-shirts for tourists to buy at shops. It's part of our heritage and runs deep in our blood, long before the 1956 movie Pura Vida! put it into words. It's an attitude and, more important, a reminder to not sweat the small stuff and instead focus on things that matter: friends, family, and most important, love.

As we were reminded on a historic day, Costa Ricans will always find their way back to "Pura Vida," no matter how close we are to falling behind.

On Sunday's presidential election, which ran almost entirely on equal rights for same-sex couples, 38-year-old Carlos Alvarado Quesada declared victory against Fabricio Alvarado Munoz by a whopping 60.8 percent to 39.2 percent, on a promise to uphold a January decision by the San Jose-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights that gave same sex couples the same financial and family rights as straight couples.

Not only was the January decision binding on all 20 countries the court oversees, it also became a key issue in the presidential race, with conservative Alvarado Munoz of the National Restoration Party calling it an affront to the country's traditional Catholic values, while promising to remove Costa Rica from the court's jurisdiction altogether if he was elected. Alvarado Quesada, however, promised to honor the ruling and called for Costa Rica to be a leader in Central America and the world as a socially progressive country.

"My commitment is to a government for everybody, in equality and liberty. There is much more that unites us than divides us," Alvarado Quesada said to a crowd following the victory.

He later tweeted, "Let's celebrate our 200 years of Independence with a government worthy and up to date with the times. Today, the world is watching us and we sent a beautiful democratic message."

For many LGBT people living in Costa Rica, social norms have visibly shifted in recent years thanks to wider visibility in smaller communities. My sister, who is also gay, lived in Monteverde, a little town in Costa Rica, for several years with her family. For many people in the village it was their first experience seeing not only a lesbian couple but a thriving lesbian couple with kids (not to mention teenagers, which we all know require an extra prayer in the morning).

I heard stories from my sister and sister-in-law about the conversations they welcomed about what it means to be LGBT as well as raising a family against a backdrop of conservatism. In Costa Rica, community is everything. Other townspeople relied on my sister's family, as my sister's family relied on them. Their kids played with each other and in the process learned that we are all more alike than different.

As a gay man, I know the impact a move like this has on LGBT Costa Ricans. While the election brought about a divide in much of the country, prompting a rise in hate crimes and attempted attacks, according to Front for Equal Rights, voters showed that while conservative traditions remain an important aspect of their lives, so does their need for social progress.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Costa Rica, published in its weekly Semanario Universidad, 25.5 percent believe that the Costa Rican state and the Catholic religion should change. A closer look at the numbers reveal a wide difference between generations. While three of 10 Costa Ricans said they support the right to abortion in cases of sexual abuse, the opinion is more common in younger people: 60 percent of those between 18 and 24 were in favor of abortion rights in pregnancies that result from sexual assault.

Yet despite these results, Costa Ricans overwhelmingly voted against Alvarado Munoz, who also promised to restrict women's access to abortion and was vocal about his mission to end sex education in schools as well as his support for the Christian-led theory of "gender ideology," arguing that LGBT people and feminists want to see the end of traditional families. While these views won Alvarado Munoz the first round of the general election with 24 percent of the vote earlier this year, it didn't carry him all the way to the presidency.

Alvarado Quesada has made history on several fronts: as Costa Rica's youngest modern president, joining France's Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, all of whom were elected before turning 40, and for his choice of Epsy Campbell as his vice president, the country's first female Afro-Costa Rican to serve as VP. As a Costa Rican-American, I can't help but smile.

In its truest form, "Pure Life" means exactly that. As many Americans anxiously await what's to happen in the next few years as the Trump administration backtracks on progress, I say let's take time to appreciate the example Costa Ricans have set for Latin America.

From one Tico to another, gracias Costa Rica! You chose love, again.

DAVID ARTAVIA is the managing editor at The Advocate magazine and lives in New York City. Follow him on Facebook @TheDavidArtavia and Twitter @DMArtavia.

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