By Oscar Lopez
MEXICO CITY, May 13 (Openly) - Lawmakers and government officials in Costa Rica on Wednesday chided fellow politicians trying to delay a landmark gay marriage ruling from taking effect, an effort which ended in a punch-up between members of a leading political party.
Costa Rica's constitutional court voted in August 2018 to legalize gay marriage, with the ruling to take effect on May 26 of this year.
The decision made Costa Rica the first country in socially conservative Central America to recognize that right of same sex couples to marry.
On Tuesday, more than 20 lawmakers attempted to introduce a motion to delay the ruling another 18 months, arguing legislators had not had enough time to review the decision because of other issues, including the novel coronavirus.
Rights activists, politicians and government officials say the push from conservatives to delay same-sex marriage detracted from efforts to address the pandemic, given the constitutional court has ruled on the matter.
"There are many other issues that we as a country need to resolve, especially in the face of the emergency we are confronting due to the global pandemic," said Luis Salazar, presidential commissioner for LGBTI population affairs.
"It's a waste of time in the sense that the issue is ... settled," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The dispute came to blows on Tuesday, when deputy David Gourzong of the National Liberation Party (PLN) physically attacked the legal advisor to fellow PLN deputy Gustavo Viales, local media reported.
Gourzong apologized on Twitter late Tuesday, tweeting: "It's clear to me that neither verbal nor physical violence is the way to resolve differences."
Lawmakers would need 38 votes in Costa Rica's 57-member assembly to bring the issue to the top of the agenda; otherwise it is unlikely to be taken up before the May 26 deadline.
Enrique Sanchez, Costa Rica's first openly gay congressman with the center-left Citizens' Action Party, said there was little chance of conservatives gaining the necessary majority.
"It's been a shameful spectacle," he said.
"It gives me peace of mind that this will possibly die from tomorrow, and there will be no going back."
Legalizing gay marriage was a major campaign promise by President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who took office in 2018.
Rights activists fear that reopening the issue could re-ignite the fierce debate that roiled the election.
"The moment the topic is placed on the table again and the (country's) polarization is exposed, hate speech starts to rise and physical assaults begin," said Margarita Salas, an LGBT+ rights campaigner and president of the VAMOS political party.
"It seems like a reflection of deep homophobia that, in the midst of a pandemic, they want to reopen these issues."
Same-sex marriage has become increasingly accepted in Latin America, with gay couples allowed to marry in Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and parts of Mexico.
One in three gay men feel unsafe at home during coronavirus
FACTBOX - Andorra set to become latest nation to legalise gay marriage
LGBT+ 'gaymers' in Mexico escape coronavirus lockdown with virtual football tournament
(Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.