LGBT rights in Guatemala

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LGBT rights in Guatemala
Guatemala (orthographic projection).svg
Same-sex sexual intercourse legal status Legal since 1871[1]
Gender identity/expression
Military service Unknown
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex couples
Adoption No

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Guatemala may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Guatemala.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not expressly included in the country's non-discrimination laws and same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples.

A majority of Guatemalans affiliate with the Catholic Church or Protestant churches. As such, attitudes towards members of the LGBT community tend to reflect prevailing religious mores. Nevertheless, LGBT people have slowly gained more and more visibility and acceptance in recent years, in line with worldwide trends. Additionally, Guatemala is legally bound to the January 2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling, which held that same-sex marriage and the recognition of one's gender identity on official documents are human rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights.[2]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Consensual, non-commercial, private homosexual sexual activity has been legal in Guatemala since 1871.[1]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

There is no legal recognition for same-sex couples in the form of same-sex marriage or in the more limited form of civil unions or domestic partnership arrangements. Former President Álvaro Colom supports civil unions for same-sex couples.[3] In December 2016, Deputy Sandra Morán along with various groups announced the introduction of a civil unions bill in the Congress of Guatemala. Morán acknowledged that her proposal will be strongly criticized by conservative groups, but argued that "society is not only made up of these people, but also people who think differently." Additionally, she urged the modernization of Guatemala on issues of recognition and support to all citizens.[4]

2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling[edit]

In January 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the American Convention on Human Rights mandates and requires the recognition of same-sex marriage. The ruling was fully binding on Costa Rica and sets a binding precedent for other Latin American and Caribbean countries including Guatemala. The Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a human right.[2]

While the ruling was welcomed by human rights groups, the Catholic Church and religious and conservative groups expressed opposition. Constitutional lawyers have urged the Government to abide by the ruling.[5]

In response to the IACHR ruling, several government lawmakers introduced a so-called "life and protection" bill, which would increase penalties for abortion and would explicitly ban same-sex marriage. If passed, the bill would criminalise women who have miscarriages (which according to certain statistics from the United States National Library of Medicine is as high as 30% of all pregnancies), and would define the family as "being a father, a mother and children". Moreover, the bill establishes that "freedom of conscience and expression" protects people from being "obliged to accept non-heterosexual conduct or practices as normal." It has also attracted further criticism, as it erroneously and unscientifically describes homosexuality as "being contrary to biology and genetics". The bill has already passed its first and second readings, and requires a final third reading, a reading of every individual article, and lastly a signature from the President. President Jimmy Morales has expressed support for the proposal, saying: "I remind the people of Guatemala that their institutions and their officials, according to Article 156 of the Political Constitution of the Republic, are not obligated to follow illegal orders. Guatemala and our government believe in life. Our government and Guatemala believe in the family based in the marriage of man and woman." His usage of the term "illegal" is factually incorrect, as Guatemala, like most Latin American countries, has taken an oath to uphold international law, respect human rights, and follow the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.[6][7]

If enacted, the bill would contravene international law with regards to same-sex marriage, specifically the American Convention on Human Rights.[6] LGBT activists have already announced their intention to challenge the proposal to the Constitutional Court and, if necessary, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights itself.[7]

Discrimination protections[edit]

LGBT flag map of Guatemala

Guatemala laws do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in areas such as employment, education, housing, health care, banking or other public accommodations, such as cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and cinemas.[8] The only exception to this is the Código de la Niñez y la Juventud (Code on Childhood and Youth), approved in 1997, which protects children and youth from experiencing discrimination based on a variety of factors, including their own sexual orientation and that of their parents.[9]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Since 2016, transgender people in Guatemala can change their legal name so that it matches their gender identity, following judicial permission. However, they cannot change their legal gender.[10][11]

Social conditions[edit]

Participants in a LGBT Pride walk in Guatemala City. June 23, 2012.

Despite homosexuality being legal since 1871, negative social attitudes have prevailed in Guatemalan society, and harassment, even targeted killings, of LGBT people have been known. For example, while a gay bar was allowed to open in 1976, it was the only gay bar allowed in Guatemala until the late 1990s.

Most Guatemalan residents are members of the Catholic, Fundamentalist Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox faiths, which all have traditionally upheld socially conservative attitudes and in particular tend to believe that homosexuality and cross-dressing are signs of immorality. These socially conservative Christian attitudes are also reflected in the dominant political parties in the nation. The National Unity of Hope is a Christian social democratic party, and the Patriotic Party is a conservative, if not right-wing, political party. Most of the other political parties, even the more liberal or left-wing parties, generally ignore the issue of LGBT rights.

Despite these challenges, the LGBT community has become more visible since the 1990s, and the nation's refocus on democratization, peace, and human rights has had some benefit for LGBT rights. In 1993, OASIS (Organization to Support an Integral Sexuality in the Face of AIDS) was allowed to be established as a non-profit group that would provide comprehensive HIV/AIDS education aimed at the LGBT community. The end of the civil war in 1996 and the subsequent advancement of democratization and human rights allowed OASIS to also work on LGBT rights.

Like many other countries, Guatemala's LGBT situation is evolving and new figures are emerging as pioneers. LGBT rights in Guatemala are no longer a forbidden topic. Younger generations are making a mark on Guatemala's society, challenging the prevailing views in the country.

In January 2016, Sandra Morán was elected to Congress, the country's first openly LGBT legislator. She is a member of Convergence, a left-leaning political party.[12]

Anti-LGBT violence[edit]

Bias-motivated crimes (a.k.a. "hate crimes") on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity are reportedly tolerated by the Government, especially when the harassment or violence is directed at transgender people. The lack of civil rights protections and protections from hate crimes is attributed to the prevailing attitudes about sexual identity and gender roles.[13]

In the late 1990s, there were several reports by the United Nations and some NGOs that LGBT people in Guatemala were being systematically targeted for death as part of a "social cleansing campaign". One of the more prominent victims of this campaign was transgender AIDS activist Luis Palencia, who was gunned down in Guatemala City in 1997.

Public opinion[edit]

According to a July 2010 poll by Cid-Gallup, 85% of the country's population opposed same-sex marriage, while 12% supported it and 3% were unsure.[14]

According to Pew Research Center survey, conducted between 10 November and 16 December 2013, 12% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 82% were opposed.[15][16]

An ILGA poll carried out between 18 April and 20 June 2014 showed that 23% of the Guatemalan population supported same-sex marriage. 61% were opposed and 17% were undecided.[17]

In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, an LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society’s view on homosexuality, how do they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied are they with their lives. Guatemala was ranked 69th with a GHI score of 40.[18]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1871)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 1871)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Anti-discrimination laws in education Yes (Since 1997)
Same-sex marriages No (Legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Recognition of same-sex couples No (Proposed; legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No (Legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No (Legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender Yes/No (Since 2016, transgender persons can change their legal name but not their legal gender; legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Access to IVF for lesbians Emblem-question.svg
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples Emblem-question.svg
MSMs allowed to donate blood Emblem-question.svg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b GLBTQ: Guatemala
  2. ^ a b "Inter-American Court endorses same-sex marriage". Agence France-Presse. Yahoo7. 9 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018. 
  3. ^ For or against: A look at world leaders' stances on gay marriage
  4. ^ (in Spanish) Preparan reformas al Código Civil para legalizar unión de personas del mismo sexo
  5. ^ Latin America countries urged to abide by landmark LGBT rights ruling The Washington Blade, 15 January 2018
  6. ^ a b Guatemala: Reject ‘Life and Family Protection’ Law
  7. ^ a b (in Spanish) Jimmy Morales: «Guatemala cree en la vida y en la familia basada en el matrimonio de hombre y mujer»
  8. ^ Guatemala: Treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered/transsexual individuals and availability of state protection
  10. ^ Socially conservative Guatemala sees LGBT gains
  11. ^ (in Spanish) Comunidad GLBTI en Guatemala gana ciertas batallas
  12. ^ "First LGBT member of Guatemala Congress takes office". Washington Blade. 
  13. ^ Sexual minority rights in Guatemala: Struggling for recognition and justice
  14. ^ Guatemalans Reject Same-Sex Marriage Archived 7 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Religion in Latin America Chapter 5: Social Attitudes
  16. ^ Religion in Latin America Appendix A: Methodology
  18. ^ The Gay Happiness Index. The very first worldwide country ranking, based on the input of 115,000 gay men Planet Romeo

External links[edit]