LGBT rights in Costa Rica

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LGBT rights in Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1971[1]
Gender identity/expression -
Military service No armed forces
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation protections since 1998
Family rights
Recognition of
Yes for some purposes
Adoption Legal, only if requested individually

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Costa Rica may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual relations have been legal since 1971.[1]


Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

As of October 2010, 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.[2] 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.[3]

In 2008 the LGBT rights association Diversity Movement, persuaded some lawmakers to introduce a civil unions bill. Deputies Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría (then of the Social Christian Unity Party, currently of the Citizens' Action Party) and José Merino (Broad Front) 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.".[3]

On July 2010 the Constitutional Court (Sala IV) ordered the TSE (Supreme Elections Tribunal) to stop the effort of preparing the referendum to take place on 5 December of this year that will allow citizens to decide the future of civil unions for same sex couples in Costa Rica. The Recurso de Amparo (appeal) was presented by lawyer Quirós Salazar, alleging that the referendum violates the rights and freedoms of individuals. The petition for referendum has been organized by the Observatorio de la Familia, a religious conservative group seeking to stop legislation that promotes civil unions for same sex couples.[4]

On 1 July 2013, the Legislative Assembly passed legislation that would grant the benefits of domestic partnerships "without discrimination contrary to human dignity". Progressive lawmakers indicated during debate that the changes would open civil unions to same-sex couples. Conservative lawmakers immediately called upon President Laura Chinchilla to veto the legislation,[5][6] claiming that they mistakenly voted for the bill.[7] Chinchilla refused to oppose the bill's passage[8] and signed it into law days later.[9] The bill took effect 8 July 2013.[10]

On 10 July, six same-sex couples asked courts to start the process to have their relationships recognized through civil unions. A day later, a family court accepted one of the petitions.[10] Their appeal was rejected.

Adoption and fostering of children[edit]

See also: LGBT parenting

Mario Núñez, a member of the Libertarian Movement Party, introduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly in 2007 to ban LGBT people and same-sex couples from adopting or having custody of children.[11][12]

Legal protections[edit]

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 is 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.

Social conditions[edit]

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 Roman Catholic Church and cultural traditions about machismo.

On 27 March 2008, the former president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez, signed an executive order designating 17 May 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. On 21 April 2013, Carmen Muñoz (Partido Acción Ciudadana) became the first openly lesbian member of Costa Rica's legislative assembly, after being interviewed by La Nación newspaper.[14]

In 2008, the Costa Rican Supreme Court ruled against a gay prison inmate receiving conjugal visits.[15] In October 2011, the Costa Rican Supreme Court reversed the 2008 ruling that now allows equality for gay couples in receiving conjugal visits only for partners outside of prison.[16]

On May 15, 2014, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, the president of Costa Rica Luis Guillermo Solis placed a rainbow flag in the Presidential House. According to Luis Guillermo Solis, this was a symbolic act in support of all kinds of diversity, particularly for a group that has been severely discriminated. The act generated mixed reactions and was criticized by religious sectors of the country.[17][18]

Political Party Viewpoints[edit]

The Social Christian Unity Party opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage on religious grounds. In 2012, controversy erupted when Justo Orozco, a party member, was head of the Human Rights Commission. Protesters were upset that Orozco expressed support for the belief that homosexuality is a sin and a treatable disease. As a result of the protests, Ana Helena Chacón, a party member, moderated an official government meeting with protestors seeking to expand legal equality for gay couples.

In 2014, the Libertarian Movement platform expressed support for tolerance of people of different genders and sexual preferences, but Otto Guevara has opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriage in his speeches.


Since the late 1990s, equal opportunity laws in Costa Rica generally protect people living with HIV/AIDS. The law also stipulates that all persons living with HIV/AIDS have the right to medical care, regardless of their nationality.[19]

HIV/AIDS preventative programs for LGBT people are primarily handled by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Comprehensive sex educational campaigns are almost nonexistent in public high schools because of the opposition of the Catholic Church and other religious groups.[20]

LGBT history in Costa Rica[edit]

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".[21]

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.[21] Article 382 in the Penal Code that mentions "scandalous sodomy" was repealed in 2002, alongside many other laws.[22]

While homosexuality was technically legal, police harassment and raids of LGBT people and private establishments were formerly commonplace. In 1990, for instance, Minister of Government Antonio Alvarez Desanti announced that he would not allow foreign women to enter Costa Rica to participate in an "Encuentro," an international 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.[23]

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. When pressed to explain how lesbians could be identified at the airport, he reportedly asserted that women who had short hair, wore pants, or travelled alone could be identified as lesbians. Organizers changed the dates and location of the meeting, and it finally took place.[24]

Furthermore the government did not want to grant legal recognition to political organizations seeking to advance LGBT rights.[21] These policies started to change in the 1990s, when the Supreme Court of Justice of Costa Rica 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.[21]

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.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

In 1999, the City of San José attempted to close down a gay sauna, but the Supreme Court in 2000 ordered the city to allow the sauna 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".[28]

On 1 July 2013, the Legislative Assembly passed legislation that would give same-sex couples some of the same rights and benefits given to opposite-sex married couples.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes Since 1971
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes Since 1998
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes Since 1998
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes Since 1998
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (for some purposes such as conjugal visit, health-related decisions and social insurance; civil union bills pending)[29]
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military Has no military (See Article 12 of Constitution)
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults
  2. ^ "Costa Rican Supreme Court says no to homosexual "marriage"". Retrieved 2015-01-01. 
  3. ^ a b "COSTA RICA: Congress to Study Bill on Homosexual Civil Unions - IPS". 2006-09-19. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  4. ^ "Referendum initiative on gay unions awaits go-ahead". 2010-06-22. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  5. ^ "Costa Rican legislature accidentally passes gay marriage legalization",, 3 July 2013
  6. ^ "¿Aprueban por accidente matrimonio gay en Costa Rica?",, 3 July 2013
  7. ^ "Costa Rica Accidentally Approves Same-Sex Unions", The Huffington Post, 3 July 2013
  8. ^ "Costa Rica 'accidentally' legalises gay marriage", The Independent, 5 July 2013
  9. ^ (Spanish) Presidenta Laura Chinchilla firmó ley con la que diputados habrían dado derechos a parejas gais. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  10. ^ a b (Spanish) Juzgado acepta por primera vez el trámite de una unión homosexual en Costa Rica. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  11. ^ Kilian Melloy (21 September 2007). "Costa Rica Contemplating Gay Adoption Ban". EDGE Boston. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Andrew Belonksy (20 September 2007). "Costa Rica Squashing Queer Adoption? / Queerty". Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  13. ^ "Costa Rica backs International Day Against Homophobia - from Pink News - all the latest gay news from the gay community". Pink News. 2008-05-01. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  14. ^ "Carmen Muñoz: la exguerrillera de Alajuelita que llevará el megáfono del PAC". 21 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  15. ^ "No Conjugal Visits For Gay Inmates In Costa Rica | On Top Magazine :: Gay & Lesbian News, Entertainment, Commentary & Travel". 2008-08-10. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Solís sobre bandera de diversidad: "No estoy en un concurso de belleza, debo gobernar para todos"". 16 May 2014. 
  18. ^ Dyer, Zach (16 May 2014). "Social conservative lawmakers incensed over LGBT flag at Casa Presidencial". The Tico Times (San Jose). Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  19. ^ Ray Of Hope: Costa Rica’s Progressive Approach to HIV/AIDS
  20. ^ "Catholics, evangelicals protest sexual education in Costa Rica schools",, 18 July 2012
  21. ^ a b c d ">> social sciences >> Costa Rica". glbtq. 2004-03-01. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  22. ^ "Laws - Costa Rica - CR". GayLawNet. 2002-04-17. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  23. ^ Written out. How Sexuality is Used to Attack Women's Organizing, authored by Cynthia Rothschild, a revised publication of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Center for Women's Global Leadership, 2005, pages 123-128
  24. ^ Written out. How Sexuality is Used to Attack Women's Organizing, authored by Cynthia Rothschild, a revised publication of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Center for Women's Global Leadership, 2005, pages 123-128
  25. ^ University in Costa Rica Adopts Anti-Gay Policy
  26. ^ "Gay and Lesbian Travelers, Costa Rica in English". Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Costa Rica: Political Progress, Cultural Lag", The Free Library by Farlex, 2001
  29. ^

External links[edit]