Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Brazil Steps Towards Legalizing Gay Marriage, Will Colombia Follow?

A judicial council in Brazil has opened the way for gay marriage in the country by ruling that it is discriminatory to relegate same-sex couples to civil unions, an argument that gay rights activists are also using in Colombia.

Yesterday afternoon, Brazil’s National Council of Justice -- a 15-member panel which oversees the judiciary -- ruled that it is unconstitutional for notary publics to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples. The landmark decision effectively paves the way for legalization of gay marriage across the country, which is already legal in 10 states.

O Globo reports that the decision could be appealed to the high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal. It could also face resistance in Congress, especially from influential Evangelical Christian legislators, as the New York Times’ Simon Romero points out.

Despite this, the ruling is a historic step forward for Brazil, and comes after two neighboring countries -- Uruguay and Argentina -- passed gay marriage laws in recent years.

The council’s finding is also noteworthy because it mirrors a 2011 Colombian Constitutional Court ruling which found that same-sex couples should have the right to register marriages with public notaries. Although Colombia’s Congress voted against a gay marriage bill last month, the 2011 decision goes into effect on June 20, when same sex couples are expected to flood notaries around the country to demand marriage equality.

News Briefs 
  • El Tiempo reports that Colombia’s chief prosecutor for crimes against humanity, Eduardo Montealegre, has announced that one potential sentence for FARC guerrillas who have committed war crimes would be to assist in de-activating land mines throughout the country. The official said his office is considering this and other alternative sentences as part of a transitional justice strategy.
  • One year after signing a free trade agreement with Colombia, there is reason to question the FTA’s benefits to the South American country. Sergio Diaz-Granados noted that exports from Colombia to the U.S. have dropped in an interview with El Espectador, and an analysis by Colombia Reports found that while U.S. exports to Colombia increased by 15 percent this year, Colombian exports to the U.S. are down 13 percent.
  • A statistical analysis of Venezuela’s voting machine audit by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) suggests that the April elections which gave President Nicolas Maduro a roughly 1.5 percent lead is accurate. According to the CEPR, “The odds of getting the April 14 audit result if in fact the unaudited machines contained enough errors to reverse the election outcome are far less than one in 25 thousand trillion.”
  • As expected, Venezuela’s only overtly anti-Chavista television network Globovision has been sold, and its new owners have announced that its editorial line will now shift “toward the centre,” according to BBC News and the L.A. Times. However in an interview with El Nacional, new Globovision board member Leopoldo Castillo said that there was no cause for concern about a radical change in the channel’s vision.
  • A new Gallup poll has been released which indicates that Venezuelans have the highest rates of perceived insecurity in the world, with 74 percent of respondents reporting that they did not feel safe walking at night where they live. The Latin American country with the next highest levels of perceived insecurity was the Dominican Republic, with 60 percent.  
  • In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, anthropologist Victoria Sanford writes that despite the conviction of Guatemalan ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, “it’s too soon to declare victory in Guatemala.” According to Sanford, the next battle is in prosecuting current president and retired general Otto Perez Molina for war crimes. “The Obama administration should call for Mr. Pérez Molina’s resignation and rally support among other members of the Organization of American States to join this call,” she argues.
  • According to the AP, Rios Montt’s lawyers claim he is still being treated in a military hospital after allegedly fainting before being scheduled to attend a hearing on reparations to victims.
  • Soccer’s worldwide governing body, FIFA, has announced that Sao Paulo could lose its right to hold matches in the 2014 World Cup as a result of delays in the construction of a stadium in the city.
  • In a public address yesterday Haitian President Michel Martelly marked two years in office by stressing some of his administration’s accomplishments, like a nationwide tuition program, social programs and rising tourism. The AP notes that while many street protests have been held against the president, a single unified opposition has not yet emerged.

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