Panama only overturned its anti-sodomy law in 2008, making it the last Spanish-speaking country to do so. Nine short years later, though, the country’s Supreme Court is considering a case to determine the constitutionality of Article 26 of Panama’s Family code that defines marriage as the “voluntary union between man and woman, who come together to make a shared life.” Should the Court rule overturn the provision, it will have cleared the way for marriage equality.
In October 2016 Enrique Jelensky and John Winstanley filed a petition seeking the overturn of the article. Eight years earlier, in 2008, Jelensky and Winstanley were married in a civil union at the British embassy in Panama. (Winstanley is a British subject.) And just recently Álvaro José López Levy filed a second petition. It remains unclear when (or how) the Supreme Court will rule, but pro bono attorneys, encouraged by the Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association, are handling the case, and the City Bar filed an amicus brief, summarizing the arguments and evidence in the U.S. marriage equality cases, through Global Americans Board Member and Arent Fox Partner Hunter Carter, who also presented the case in the media in numerous interviews. The parties seek to make the civil marriage legal framework available to all couples without the restriction in Article 26.
Chile is famously one of the most conservative and Catholic countries in the region—a country where divorce was only legalized in late 2004, the last country in the hemisphere to do so. In 2009, a majority of Chileans—65%—still opposed the marriage of same sex couples. In April 2015, President Michelle Bachelet signed a law allowing civil unions, after a long back-and-forth that included efforts by the conservative party Unión Democrática Independiente (UDI) to introduce a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. But after making a statement in her campaign that she favored marriage equality, Bachelet’s government signed a settlement agreement with representatives (led by Carter) of three same-sex couples who were denied their marriage rights. The agreement was sponsored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where the couples and their representatives sued Chile for breaching the American Convention on Human Rights and its guaranties of equal protection and family rights. Signed in 2016, the agreement was celebrated publicly at a speech given by Bachelet before representatives of all branches of government, acknowledging Chile’s violations of their human rights, and confirming the agreement to introduce marriage equality legislation before July 1, 2017. In a more recent announcement Bachelet appears to have pushed back that deadline.
Should the Panama Supreme Court overturn the law defining marriage as only between a man and woman and should the Chilean Congress approve the bill Bachelet is expected to present to Congress, Panama and Chile will become the sixth and seventh countries in Latin America to permit same-sex marriage. They would be joining Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay—countries that are seen as relatively more liberal than Panama and Chile. Taken together, 75% of Americans—from Canada to the Tierra del Fuego—are in the vanguard of marriage equality, and the vanguard of human rights.