Activists take part during the World Pride Parade 2017 in Quito, Ecuador on July 1, 2017.

© 2017 Patricio Realpe/Getty Images

When two same-sex couples went to the civil registry in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador to get married last April, they were refused. The registry argued no Ecuadorian laws would permit their marriage. The couples went to court.

An appeals court is set to rule on these cases in the near future. The waiting and the uncertainty may be agonizing, but there is also real hope.  

The registry’s refusal to marry the couples was no surprise. Until now, the government has only allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. These do not grant them all the same rights enjoyed by married couples.

In July, two Cuenca lower courts ruled in favor of the same-sex couples, arguing that the civil registry had violated their rights to equal treatment and nondiscrimination provided for in Ecuador’s Constitution and in the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), to which Ecuador is a party. Both courts ordered the civil registry to register the marriages and publish the decision. On the same day, the civil registry filed appeals before the Provincial Court of Cuenca.

A 2017 advisory opinion by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, citing the ACHR, said countries should recognize same-sex couples as having the same rights related to family relationships as heterosexual couples, and that governments should ensure these rights in their domestic laws, including the right to marriage.   

The court’s opinion leaves no doubt the ACHR does guarantee the right to marriage to same-sex couples. Ecuador and other state parties need to take the court’s opinion into consideration when developing their own laws and policies.  

Ecuadorean courts appear to be taking notice. In May 2018, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ruled a girl born in Ecuador with two British mothers should be registered as an Ecuadorian citizen and the registry office should record the names of her two mothers.

As Ecuadorean society continues to engage in a healthy and responsible debate on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, it is important for authorities to remember that, regardless of their personal positions on these matters, Ecuador is bound to enforce rights provided for in the ACHR. These include the rights of LGBT people to civil marriage equality.