The ruling by Colombia’s Constitutional Court on April 17 to extend pension benefits to same-sex partners sets an example for other countries in achieving equality for all, Human Rights Watch said today.
After considering the arguments of domestic and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, the Constitutional Court found that same-sex partners should be given the same pension and health benefits as a family is. The court acknowledged that to exclude same-sex partners would violate the principle of non-discrimination and human dignity as the expression of personal autonomy, protected by international law.
“Same-sex partners in Colombia now have a broader legal framework to guarantee their equality,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch. “Colombia’s court set an example for the region; other countries should follow suit.”
The decision comes a year after the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in favor of a man who sought his deceased partner’s pension. In X v. Colombia, the UN committee concluded that by denying a life partner in a same-sex couple pension rights on the basis of his sexual orientation, Colombia had violated the right to equality and non-discrimination as protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 26 of the ICCPR).
Despite the UN committee’s March 30, 2007 ruling, the Colombian government claimed that it lacked a legal framework that would allow it to reconsider the case and therefore could not give Mr. X his life partner’s pension. The Constitutional Court’s recent decision supplies Colombia with the needed legal framework.
On August 30, 2007, a group of Colombian human rights organizations and legal academics challenged the relevant laws in Colombia (Article 1 of Law 54/1990 and Articles 47, 74 and 163 of Law 100/1993). The petitioners asked the Constitutional Court to extend the protection of health and pension benefits to same-sex partnerships to comply with the principles of human dignity, equality, and non-discrimination. Several organizations, including Human Rights Watch, submitted amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs supporting the petitioners’ request.
“The court’s decision now removes any legal obstacles to granting Mr. X the requested benefits, and gives the government the opportunity to set a positive precedent for similar cases in the future,” said Vivanco. “The ruling embraces basic human right principles that should be followed in every sphere.”
Mr. X took his case to the courts after his partner of 22 years, seven of which they lived together, died on July 27, 1993. X, who depended economically on his partner, lodged an application with the Social Welfare Fund of the Colombian Congress, Division of Economic Benefits, seeking a pension transfer on September 16, 1994. On April 19, 1995, the fund rejected Mr. X’s request on the grounds that Colombian laws did not allow the transfer of pensions between same-sex partners. In 2001, Mr. X decided to bring his case to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Colombian Congress has discussed more than six legislative initiatives related to same-sex partnerships benefits in the last 10 years. None of them have been enacted into law. All legal progress made in the last 5 years in Colombia has been accomplished through decisions by the Colombian Constitutional Court.