In 2020, Costa Rica became the first Central American country to legalise same-sex marriage. Writer Beatriz Ferreira heard some of the stories behind the landmark ruling
When Margarita Salas Guzmán first fell in love, the hatred seemed to follow.
“I felt the violence on the streets every day. If we held hands in public people would shout ugly things to us, we were kicked out of bars, restaurants and shops,’’ she said.
‘‘But I also found the violence I was facing was nothing compared to other people in the community who couldn’t find a job or were kicked out of their homes.’’
For Guzmán, LGBTQ+ issues have always been more than just an issue.
“It’s my life! It’s my life as a lesbian and member of the community,” said Guzmán.
The brutality and discrimination became very clear for her and so did the burning urge to fight. After 20 years working as an activist to help change the country’s mentality on LGBTQ+ issues, Guzmán decided to establish a political party focused on the human rights agenda, named Vamos (Let’s go), with a priority to pass the bill legalising same-sex marriage in the country.
What initially started out small, with casual meetings over the weekend with friends at her home, quickly became a national movement.
“We started to stop everyone in every corner, shopping mall, park, every public space you can think of to explain our project. We must have spoken to over 25,000 people,” she says.
Wanting to take things further, she ran for the country’s Congress for the first time in 2018. While she wasn’t elected, her campaign began raising more awareness to equal marriage and gained increasing momentum, gathering attention from the media.
Shortly afterwards in the same year, the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in the country began to pay off and in a groundbreaking moment, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica declared that it was unconstitutional to prohibit same-sex marriage and gave the nation’s Legislative Assembly 18 months to change the law. As a result, for the first time in a Central American country, same-sex marriage was about to become legal.
“After a very long fight to make it happen, on 26 May 2020, equal marriage finally came in effect. How historical it was for a country as Catholic as Costa Rica to recognise same-sex marriage? Because that is recognising the diversity of families and couples,’’ Guzmán says.
“What we are seeing now is hundreds of couples getting married, getting their union recognised, finally being able to protect their children and a guarantee they will have their last names.
‘‘In addition, binational couples are now finally being able to live in the same country and regularise their situation, finally having the same legal rights and security as any other couple.’’
That is the case of 30-year old Audrey Torres and 26-year old Rosa Perez, who finally saw their dream of getting married come true on 16 January 2021.
“For me there is nothing more beautiful than this day, being able to marry the person I love, and finally being able to call her my wife! Nothing could make me happier,” Perez says.
“We decided to get married because we love each other more and more every day. Because we went through a lot together and despite everything, we want to stay together. It was impossible for many people, but fortunately, it is now possible for us,” she adds.
Torres came out as lesbian shortly before she and Perez began dating, three years ago.
“Society in Costa Rica is more discriminatory than in other countries. People accept that we exist but don’t want us near them or in their families. For a same-sex couple, showing affection in public is only now starting to be acceptable,’’ Torres says.
A deeply Catholic nation, Costa Rica is constitutionally a Catholic country and thus, religion plays a large role in influencing public opinion.
“We are living in a politically polarised environment and a lot of hate rose up. The more progress we make, the harder the conservatives try to force us to push it back. We receive a lot of threats, people promising to kick us out of the country, or threatening us with restoration therapies,” Guzmán adds.
There is still ‘a lot of work to do,’ she says and thus, that was the reason as to why she chose to accept the offer to become the Presidential Commissioner for LGBTIQ Affairs on behalf of the sitting government, a job she does pro bono after her full-time job at the communication department of a feminist NGO.
“We are seeing more violence against young people because they are starting to come out of the closet sooner, and their families don’t accept them or they suffer bullying at school. The second more common reason for school dropouts is bullying against LGBTIQ students,” she continues.
“The purpose of developing a party, running to Congress, or campaigning on the streets was always to be part of conversations and agenda settings.
‘‘Costa Rica is in a difficult financial situation and I knew I wasn’t going to be paid, but still wanted to accept the position because I want the younger generations to know that it will get better! That we are here for them!
“I don’t want them to face violence their whole life. The possibility of living a life free of violence was something many of us didn’t have, but we are here to try to make it happen for them,” she adds.