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INTERVIEW-Peru gay marriage bill 'doomed' this year - congressman

Reuters | Updated: 17-05-2019 21:16 IST | Created: 17-05-2019 21:03 IST
INTERVIEW-Peru gay marriage bill 'doomed' this year - congressman
For the past three years, congressman de Belaunde has been pushing for new legislation that would allow same-sex couples to wed in the conservative nation. Image Credit: Flickr

Peruvian lawmaker Alberto de Belaunde, one of only two openly gay members of the country's Congress, has little hope that he will be able to marry his longtime partner any time soon. "I've lived with my boyfriend for seven years and for the government it's like he is my roommate," de Belaunde said. "We have no legal recognition," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For the past three years, congressman de Belaunde has been pushing for new legislation that would allow same-sex couples to wed in the conservative nation. This would bring Peru in line with other nations in South America, including Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia, which have legalized gay marriage in recent years.

But with a conservative majority in Peru's Congress, the chances of gay couples getting married or people being allowed to legally change their gender identity anytime soon is remote. "Our bill for marriage equality and our bill for gender identity, well they are, like, doomed," he said, speaking on the sidelines of an event in Bogota, Colombia, hosted by the Victory Institute, a non-profit which seeks to elect LGBT+ candidates.

"I'm pessimistic about 2019 but we are still fighting. I think every time we talk about this issue we move forward but the thing is we don't have the votes." No date has yet been set for the bill to legalize gay marriage, which was presented in 2016, to be debated, he said.

Along with Venezuela and Paraguay, Peru is one of only three countries in South America that has not legalized gay marriage, according to de Belaunde.

POWERFUL EVANGELICALS

The growing rise and influence of the evangelical Christian movement and churches in society and politics is a big obstacle in getting laws that promote LGBT+ rights passed, he said. Most evangelical groups are critical of gay rights, saying marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

"This evangelical or ultra-conservative movement grows with fake news ... trying to make people afraid of LGBT inclusion. They are really well-organized and really well-funded," de Belaunde said. "I'm trying to work with evangelical leaders, moderate evangelical leaders. The thing is that there are not so outspoken as the other ones," the 33-year-old said.

Changing negative views among Peruvian society about gay marriage is also a big challenge in the majority-Catholic country. Two different polls in 2017 showed that at least seven in 10 Peruvians were against same-sex unions.

"We have to make sure that people from all parts of Peru from different backgrounds ... understand the importance of having a society without discrimination," de Belaunde said. Over 60% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) people had suffered some type of discrimination or violence, according to a 2018 survey by Peru's National Institute of Statistics.

Yet recent court rulings in favour of same-sex unions could help pave the way for gay rights and push lawmakers to debate the 2016 bill to legalize gay marriage, he said. In a landmark April ruling, a local court in Peru said authorities must recognize the marriage of a Peruvian lesbian couple who were wedded in Miami, and that failing to do so would be discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The top rights body of the Americas based in Costa Rica, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, has also weighed in on the issue, urging countries to legalise gay marriage. In a judgment issued last year, the court said its signatory member countries, which include Peru, should treat same-sex couples "without discrimination," ensuring that they receive the same family and financial rights as heterosexual couples.

As an openly gay congressman, de Belaunde says he has received "a lot of hate messages" on social media, and also part of the discrimination he faces is that people wrongly assume he is only working to promote LGBT+ rights. "People say that I'm a single-issue congressman," he said.

"And it's really funny because I have 25 bills presented and only two of them are to do with LGBT issues - gay marriage and gender identity." Transgender people in Peru who wish to change their gender identity on their legal documents face what amounts to a lottery, he said.

They have to file a petition before a court and get special permission from a judge. "It depends on the judge. It depends on the court. You can get a really cool judge or you can get like the worst judge of all," he said.


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