LGBT rights in Costa Rica

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LGBT rights in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1971[1]
Gender identity/expression -
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex couples
Adoption -
Military service -
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation protections since 1998

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Costa Rica have made significant cultural, social and legal progress since the 1970s. While certain politicians, such as president Óscar Arias, have expressed some support for LGBT-rights, Costa Ricans tend to be socially conservative when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity issues, in large part due to the strong influences of the Catholic Church and cultural traditions about machismo.

Laws against homosexuality

Homosexuality first became classified as a grave sin and crime during the Spanish rule. After gaining independence, it remained a crime until the liberal presidency of Tomás Guardia. While it was decriminalized during this era as part of a larger reform of the legal system, homosexuality was still widely seen as an "infamous sin".[2] In 1971, a universal age of consent was established as was a new law that prohibited "scandalous sodomy" but otherwise maintained the legal status of private homosexual sex acts between consenting adults.[2] "Scandalous sodomy" was repealed in the 2002 amendment entitled the Penal Code.

Recognition of same-sex relationships

As of September 2008, Costa Rica law does not recognize same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits.

In 2006 the Supreme Court rejected a claim that the Constitution requires the government to recognize same-sex marriages. Human rights lawyer Yashin Castrillo Fernandez had sued arguing that certain constitutional provisions relating to equal rights and international law required the legalization of same-sex marriage, but only two of the justices agreed.[3] The majority wrote that at the time the Constitution was approved, "marriage" was understood to be a union between a man and a woman. The court decision did state that the national government had the power to enact civil unions.[4]

In 2006, Presidential candidate Antonio Álvarez (Union for Change Party) publicly endorsed civil unions, but not same-sex marriage, and received 2.44% of the popular vote. That same year, Antonio De Santi and Miguel Corrales (National Liberation Party) both gave interviews with the Costa Rica LGBT press where they promised to follow a policy of respect and tolerance.

In 2008 the LGBT rights association Diversity Movement, persuaded some lawmakers to introduce a civil unions bill. Deputies Ana Elena Chacón (Social Christian Unity Party)and José Merino (Broad Front Party) expressed support for the proposed bill stating that, "gays and lesbians are no less Costa Rican than the rest of us. We're not talking about marriage or adoption, but about basic civil rights.".[5]

Adoption and family planning

In 2007 a bill was introduced by Mario Núñez (Libertarian Movement Party) to ban LGBT people and same-sex couples from adopting or having custody of children.[6][7], but the bill did not pass.

Discrimination protections

The constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since 1998, "sexual option" (Article 48 Costa Rican General Law 7771) is one of the categories in which discrimination in generally prohibited in areas such as employment. Yet, societal prejudice keeps most LGBT people from "coming out".

ARTICLE 48. Costa Rican General Law 7771 – Discrimination
Who ever applies, arranges or practices discriminatory measures because of race, nationality, gender, age, political, religious or sexual option, social position, economic situation, marital status or by any suffering of health or disease, will be sanctioned with penalty of twenty to sixty days fines. The judge will be able to impose, in addition, the disqualifying penalty that corresponds, of fifteen to sixty days.

Living conditions

While homosexuality was technically legal, police harassment and raids of LGBT people and private establishments was formerly commonplace. In 1990, for instance, Antonio Alvarez Desanti, by then Minister of Governance and Police (the equivalent of minister of the interior in other countries), announced that he will not allow foreign women to enter to Costa Rica to participate in a meeting of lesbians. He instructed Costa Rican consulates not to grant visas to women travelling unaccompanied by men, warning that all such women would be stopped at the airport. He also informed airlines that if they sold tickets to women travelling alone, or appearing likely to attend the meeting, they would be required to provide for the suspected lesbians' immediate return. Reportedly, when pressed to explain how lesbians could be identified at the airport, he asserted that women who had short hair, wear pants and travelled alone could be identified as lesbians. Organizers changed the dates and location of the meeting, and it finally took place (Cynthia Rothschild, 2005. Written out. How Sexuality is Used to Attack Women's Organizing)

Furthermore the government did not want to grant legal recognition to political organizations seeking to advance LGBT rights.[2] These policies started to change in the 1990s, when the Costa Rican Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gave LGBT people the right to peaceful assembly, associate, create their own private establishments, as well as their own LGBT rights associations.[2]

In 1992, the first LGBT rights association, Triángulo Rosa, was founded. A few years later it was joined by another association called Movimiento Diversidad. Both associations seek to advance LGBT rights, promote greater education about LGBT issues and promote HIV/AIDS education. Several high profile examples of sexual orientation or gender identity based discrimination illustrate both the societal prejudices and the legal remedies.

In 1993, it came to light that the Universidad Internacional de las Americas has a policy of expelling LGBT students and firing LGBT faculty and staff. When an AIDS-HIV education association, Instituto Latinoamericano de Educacion y Prevencion en Salud, filed a complaint with the Ministry of Education they were unable to come up with a specific example of the university's policy being enforced, but the Ministry stated that if the policy is enforced it would probably violate Articles 20, 33 and 70 of the Constitution.[8]

In the later 1990s the Costa Rica Catholic Church organized protest against LGBT tourism, often arguing that it was a cover for sex tourism. Yet, there are still several tourist groups that cater to LGBT people[9]

In 1998, a planned LGBT pride festival was cancelled out of concern of the possibility of violence. During the initial planning of the event, the then President of Costa Rica publicly opposed granting permits for the event to occur.[10]

In 2000, the City of San José attempted to close down a gay sauna, but the Court ordered the City to allow the establishment to remain open stating, "subjective criteria of morality and proper behaviour have no legal basis... and represent a violation of the fundamental rights granted by our Constitution".[11]

In 2008, the Costa Rican Supreme Court ruled against a gay prison inmate receiving conjugal visits.[12]

In 2009, two lesbians who were showing their love in public were harassed in the park in front of the "Gran Hotel Costa Rica" by the hotel's security guard. The hotel answered saying they will not support "inmorality".

There is a vibrant nightlife scattered in San José consisting of discos, saunas, night clubs, cafes and bars for gay or gay friendly. Namely these include "Bochinche," "Club OH," "Al Despiste," "Punto G," "La Avispa," and "Puchos." On the Pacific coast the town of Manuel Antonio is very gay oriented-friendly and some hotels and bars are gay owned. There is a nude gay beach here called "la playita". The rest of the country lacks special places for gay people.

There are local magazines Gente 10 for gay men, another one for the Manuel Antonio - Quepos area and one for lesbians. Several international magazines and books can be bought locally. There are several local websites and chat sites for GLBT as Gaycostarica, ticosos (Costa Rican bears) and others.

A local NGO called CIPAC provides workshops, sexual education, resources, books, condoms, has a free 24 hour help call line and organizes festivals.

No openly LGBT Costa Rican has run for or held elected public office. Until recently, most Costa Rica political parties and politicians tended to ignore LGBT rights issues. However, this has slowly begun to change. On March 27, 2008 the president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez, signed an executive order designating May 17 as the National Day Against Homophobia,[13] committing Costa Rica to join others around the world in working to eradicate bias against gays and lesbians. In 2009, the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front) publicly supported the LGBT movement. This is the first national party to do so in the history of Costa Rica. Presidential aspirant Epsy Campbell, for the Partido Accion Ciudadana, actively supports the GLBT community and to stop discrimination around the country.


Since the late 1990s, it is generally illegal to discriminate against some one because they have HIV/AIDS, and such persons are entitled to medical care regardless of their nationality.[14]

While the government and NGO's run educational campaigns, comprehensive sexual education is almost nonexistent in public high schools due to objections from the Catholic Church.[15]

See also



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