LGBT rights in Panama

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LGBT rights in Panama
Panama (orthographic projection).svg
Same-sex sexual intercourse legal statusLegal since 2008
Gender identity/expressionChange of legal gender allowed following sex reassignment surgery
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Panama may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Panama, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal benefits and protections available to opposite-sex married couples.

In March 2017, a lawsuit seeking to legalise same-sex marriage was filed before the Supreme Court. The lawsuit provoked a lot of discussion in Panamanian society, prompting many public figures to announce their support for LGBT rights and/or civil same-sex marriage, including the Vice President, the First Lady and the Attorney General.

Same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples are likely to soon become legal in Panama, per a 2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling.


The Guna people of northeastern Panama recognise a third gender. Such individuals as known as omeggid (literally like a woman). In Guna society, if a young boy begins showing a tendency to act female, the family naturally accepts him and allows him to grow up in this way. Very often, omeggids will learn a skill that is typically associated with women, such as crafting molas. The omeggids are rooted in Guna mythology. According to Guna mythology, "the original leaders who brought the traditions, rules and guidelines for the Guna people to live by [are] a man named Ibeorgun, his sister Gigadyriai and his little brother Wigudun", who is an omeggid. According to certain reports, the Guna people are also accepting of homosexuality.[1]

Following Spanish colonisation and the subsequent 300 years of Spanish rule, sexuality and LGBT issues became taboo in Panama. Sodomy was punished with death.[2] The Guna people were able to keep their traditions and customs, despite suppression by the Spanish and the subsequent post-independence Panamanian Government.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Panama since 2008; Panama was the last Spanish-speaking country in Latin America to overturn its anti-sodomy law.[3][4] The age of consent is equal at 18. Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 2008.[5]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

There is no recognition of same-sex couples. A proposal that would have allowed same-sex civil unions was defeated in 2004, mainly due to pressure on the Government from the Roman Catholic Church.[6] In 2005, 12% of Panamanians supported same-sex marriage being recognized in the country.[7]

On 15 April 2014, in the run-up to the 2014 presidential elections, five of the seven presidential candidates signed a document called the Pact of National Commitment for Life and Traditional Family. The document stated that "the country should guarantee freedom of religion and should modify the law to protect the traditional structure of the family, defined as the union of a man and a woman."[8]

On 8 May 2014, the Code of Private International Law was approved, prohibiting same-sex marriage in Panama and clarifying that the country would not recognize marriages performed in other countries. Article 40 specified that "same-sex marriages are strictly prohibited in the country".[8]

2016–present lawsuit[edit]

On 17 October 2016, a married same-sex couple filed a lawsuit seeking to recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad in the country. Magistrate Luis Ramón Fabrega was assigned to the case and had to decide whether to admit the case to the 9-member Supreme Court of Justice.[9][10] In early November, the case was admitted to the Supreme Court.[11] On 24 March 2017, another lawsuit against Article 26 of the Panamanian Civil Code was introduced to the Supreme Court, who agreed to hear the case. Article 26 specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman and as such bans same-sex marriage. This case seeks to legalize same-sex marriage in Panama.[12][13][14] In June 2017, the Supreme Court united the two lawsuits.[15]

On 14 April 2017, Vice President Isabel Saint Malo announced her support for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.[16] In mid-May, Attorney General Rigoberto González issued a statement to the Supreme Court, asking it to legalise same-sex marriage. While admitting that same-sex marriage was a controversial issue in Panamanian society, González argued that his position was in line with the value of dignity for all human beings as well as the Panamanian Constitution.[17][18]

In October 2017, one Supreme Court judge preliminarily published a draft ruling rejecting the same-sex marriage case.[19]

On 21 December 2017, LGBT advocacy group Fundación Iguales Panama presented a recusal request before the Supreme Court against Justice Cecilio Cedalise, who spoke against same-sex marriage in 2015. The marriage case was put on hold, pending the outcome of the recusal request.[20]

On 15 February 2018, the aforementioned draft ruling was withdrawn.[21] The Supreme Court will now take into account the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (see below) in its decision, which is expected to be issued shortly.[5][22]

In May 2018, it was reported that a lesbian couple had also filed a suit with the Supreme Court in order to have their marriage recognised.[23]

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

On 8 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 set binding precedent in other Latin American and Caribbean countries including Panama.[24]

On 16 January, the Panamanian Government welcomed the decision. Vice President Isabel Saint Malo, speaking on behalf of the Government, announced that the country would fully abide by the ruling. Official notices, requiring compliance with the ruling, were sent out to various governmental departments that same day.[25][26]

The IACHR ruling was strongly condemned by the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Several deputies similarly expressed their opposition to the ruling, with one deputy labelling it "a danger to the human race".[27] In early February, a citizen submitted an application to the Parliament to investigate the Vice President for allegedly overstepping her functions and abusing authority when she announced government compliance with the ruling.[28]

On 2 February, the Attorney General announced that the country cannot ignore the IACHR ruling, reiterating the Government's position that the ruling is fully binding on Panama.[29][30]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Same-sex couples are unable to legally adopt in Panama. However, IVF and artificial insemination are available to lesbian couples in the country.[31][32]

Discrimination protections[edit]

There are no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Article 39 of the Constitution forbids the creation of "companies, associations or foundations" that are contrary to moral or legal order. In the past, this was used to refuse registration of gay organisations.

In August 2015, a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced in the National Assembly.[33]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Since 2006, transgender persons in Panama can change their legal gender and name on their birth certificates, but only after having undergone sex reassignment surgery.[34]

In May 2016, a 22-year-old Panamanian transgender woman was allowed to change her name, so that it matches her gender identity, without having undergone surgery.[35] This was the first time a transgender person in Panama was able to change their name without first undergoing surgery.

In January 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that requiring transgender people to undergo surgery to change their legal gender is a violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.[24]

Blood donation[edit]

Gay and bisexual men in Panama are banned from donating blood.[36]

LGBT rights movements in Panama[edit]

LGBT flag map of Panama

In 1996, Panama's first lesbian and gay organisation Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá (AHMNP; "New Men and Women of Panama Association") was founded. It received legal recognition in 2005 after a three-year battle with the authorities and the Catholic Church. In 2004, they presented a petition calling for partnership rights. In June 2005, Panama's first Gay Pride march was held with 100 AHMNP demonstrators.

In May 2015, the second LGBT rights organisation was formed in Panamá: Unión de la diversidad.[37] In June 2016, a new foundation named Convive Panamá was launched strongly based on the mission, ideas and working methods of Unión de la diversidad.[38] In 2017, Fundación Iguales Panamá, a non-profit organization that promotes the observance, promotion and respect of human rights, was created. Fundación Iguales has impacted public opinion towards tolerance and inclusion for all, and has been in the frontline of defending LGBT rights.

In April 2017, it was announced that First Lady Lorena Castillo would participate in the 2017 Gay Pride parade in Panama City.[39]

Public opinion[edit]

According to Pew Research Center survey, conducted between 13 November and 8 December 2013, 23% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 72% were opposed.[40][41]

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. Panama was ranked 55th with a GHI score of 44.[42]

According to a public survey conducted in April 2017, 78% of Panamanians opposed same-sex marriage.[43]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 2008)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2008)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No (Proposed)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No (Proposed)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No (Proposed)
Same-sex marriages No (Challenge admitted to the Supreme Court; legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Recognition of same-sex couples No (Challenge admitted to the Supreme Court; legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No (Challenge admitted to the Supreme Court; legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No (Challenge admitted to the Supreme Court; legalisation required per a 2018 IACHR ruling)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Has no military
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2006)
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Homosexuality declassified as an illness Yes (Since 2008)
Conversion therapy banned Emblem-question.svg
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Surrogacy takes place and is not prohibited, but there are currently no laws regulating the practice)[44]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Egle Gerulaityte (14 August 2018). "Guna Yala: The islands where women make the rules". BBC Travel.
  2. ^ Kamen, Henry, The Spanish Inquisition, p. 259.
  3. ^ "Decreto Ejecutivo Nº 332 de 29 de julio de 2008" (PDF). Gaceta Oficial (in Spanish). Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  4. ^ "Gay sex becomes legal in Panama". 2008-08-14. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  5. ^ a b (in Spanish) Panamá, ¿En camino al matrimonio igualitario?
  6. ^ Panama: Support Civil Union Proposal Now under Attack by the Catholic Church
  7. ^ "Abortion Rejected by Nearly 90% of Panamanians, Same Sex 'Marriage' Rejected by 80%". 2005-05-25. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  8. ^ a b Panama: Controversy Erupts over Gay Marriage Ban
  9. ^ (in Spanish) Surge preocupación ante recurso para que se reconozca el matrimonio igualitario en Panamá
  10. ^ (in Spanish) Buscan implementar matrimonio homosexual a través de la Corte
  11. ^ (in Spanish) Corte Suprema de Justicia conocerá sobre matrimonios igualitarios
  12. ^ (in Spanish) Llega a la Corte Suprema nuevo recurso para legalizar matrimonios de personas del mismo sexo
  13. ^ (in Spanish) Panamá abre el compás al matrimonio gay
  14. ^ Same-sex marriage could come to Panama if activists win legal fight
  15. ^ (in Spanish) Acumulan en un solo expediente las dos demandas que piden legalizar el matrimonio igualitario
  16. ^ (in Spanish) Canciller De Saint Malo, a favor del matrimonio gay
  17. ^ (in Spanish) Posibilidad de matrimonio igualitario dispara alarmas en Panamá
  18. ^ (in Spanish) Procurador González expresa su opinión a la Corte sobre unión entre homosexuales
  19. ^ Report: Panama Supreme Court judge rules against same-sex marriage, The Washington Blade, 22 October 2017
  20. ^ (in Spanish) Ayú Prado: recusación retrasa decisión sobre matrimonio igualitario
  21. ^ Panama Supreme Court judge withdraws draft ruling against marriage
  22. ^ (in Spanish) Grupos gays toman oxígeno
  23. ^ (in Spanish) Pareja de lesbianas espera que CSJ reconozca su unión en Panamá
  24. ^ a b "Inter-American Court endorses same-sex marriage". Agence France-Presse. Yahoo7. 9 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  25. ^ "Panamá acoge a la opinión de Corte IDH sobre matrimonio gay". La Estrella de Panamá. 16 January 2018.
  26. ^ "El Gobierno panameño acoge opinión de la CorteIDH sobre matrimonio homosexual". W Radio. 16 January 2018.
  27. ^ (in Spanish) Deputies reject opinion of the Inter-American Court on gay marriage
  28. ^ (in Spanish) Piden investigar a Isabel Saint Malo por promover matrimonio gay
  29. ^ (in Spanish) Procurador González pide no ignorar opinión de CorteIDH sobre matrimonio igualitario
  30. ^ (in Spanish) El país no puede ignorar llamado de la CorteIDH sobre matrimonio gay
  31. ^ Artificial Insemination in Panama
  33. ^ (in Spanish) Buscan que orientación sexual e identidad género sean reconocidos en Panamá
  34. ^ (in Spanish) Transexuales panameños tramitan cédulas de mujer
  35. ^ (in Spanish) Por primera vez, una transexual logra en Panamá cambiar su nombre en la cédula
  36. ^ (in Spanish) Cerca de 50 países impiden a los hombres homosexuales donar sangre
  37. ^ "Unión de la diversidad".
  38. ^ "Lawsuits Convive Panama".
  39. ^ (in Spanish) Primera Dama será abanderada de la marcha del orgullo gay en Panamá
  40. ^ Religion in Latin America Chapter 5: Social Attitudes
  41. ^ Religion in Latin America Appendix A: Methodology
  42. ^ The Gay Happiness Index. The very first worldwide country ranking, based on the input of 115,000 gay men Planet Romeo
  43. ^ (in Spanish) Panamá discute la legalización del matrimonio gay: ¿será el primer país en aprobarlo en Centroamérica?