It’s looking increasingly likely that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is going to have to decide whether same-sex couples’ right to marry is protected by international law.
Activists in Costa Rica have announced that they’ll start the process of suing their government after a civil union bill was blocked by conservative members of the country’s legislature. Their suit would join one filed earlier this year by three couples in Chile. And the Mexican lawyer who successfully sued on behalf of three couples from Oaxaca, Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, told me earlier this month that he’s also preparing to go to the Inter-American Court to broaden the ruling to allow same-sex couples to marry across Mexico.
Though the United States does not recognize the authority of the Inter-American Court (big surprise), most Latin American countries do. If the court were to rule that same-sex couples have the right to marry under the American Convention on Human Rights, it could lead to equal marriage rights across the region.
These cases are built upon the precedent established in February when the court ruled that the Human Rights Convention prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The court said that the treaty “prohibits … any rule, act, or discriminatory practice based on sexual orientation.” This ruling came in a case brought by a lesbian mother from Chile, Karen Atala, who was suing to regain custody of her children. (More on this ruling and the amazing video of a government ceremony to apologize to Atala here.)
The Mexican Supreme Court was the first to consider whether the Atala decision means there’s a right to marry under international law in its December 5 ruling allowing the three Oaxacan couples to marry. But it’s still not clear how broadly the court extended this precedent, because the written ruling hasn’t yet been issued. It’s expected sometime in early January.
The Costa Rican activists are also emboldened by another ruling from the Inter-American Court, handed down December 20, that struck down their country’s ban on in-vitro fertilization for violating “the right to private and family life, personal integrity, and sexual health.” If the court meant that individuals have a right to determine for themselves how to structure their families, this could be a second key precedent in the marriage cases.