Colombia legalized adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday when its Supreme Court handed down a ruling that bars adoption agencies from discriminating against gay couples.
The decision, which came about after months of heated media debates, marks a big step forward for Colombia’s LGBT community. It also places Colombia in a small but growing club of Latin American nations leading the push for greater recognition of gay rights.
“This is historic,” said Marcela Sanchez, director of Colombia Diversa, one of the country’s main gay rights groups. “From now on everyone will have equal opportunity when they request an adoption.”
Progress on gay rights remains uneven throughout Latin America, a region steeped in Catholic heritage. While Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have allowed same sex adoption for several years now, the six Spanish-speaking countries of Central America remain far behind and don’t even have laws allowing civil unions between same sex couples.
Mexico has made strides in recent years; gay marriage is now legal in the capital and in two other states. In August, Mexico’s Supreme Court paved the way for the legalization of adoption by same sex couples when it determined that a state law that prohibited same sex couples from adopting was unconstitutional.
Now activists in Colombia are hoping that their legal victory this week will help to inspire similar advances in neighboring countries. In Bolivia for instance, an LGBT coalition is currently lobbying congress to pass a law allowing adoption by same sex couples.
But LGBT rights groups often face political resistance.
Bolivia’s president revealed his socially conservative tendencies a few years ago, when he suggested that eating genetically modified chicken makes men gay and causes “deviations” in indigenous communities.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, has expressed his outright opposition to adoption by same sex couples, arguing that “nature” tells us that “children must be in a traditional family made up by a man and a woman.”
Correa has also dismissed calls to make gay marriage legal in his country.
“These are dumb requests, that are doing a lot of harm to left-wing political projects in Latin America and around the world, cause many times they are pressuring us to do impossible things that can't be a priority when we're faced with things like misery and poverty,” the President said during a radio show in 2013.
Even in Colombia, the nation’s Inspector General called adoption by same sex couples an act of “social engineering” that puts innocent children at risk.
But the country’s high court sees things differently. In its ruling the court determined that a couple’s sexual orientation should not be considered a criteria by adoption agencies in determining a good home for an orphaned child.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.