Same-sex civil unions in Ecuador are now more than a piece of paper
Yesterday, September 15, marked the first day same-sex couples in Ecuador could register to include their civil union status on government-issued identification documents, marking another step toward marriage equality in Latin America — though some advocates say it is still not enough.
Ecuador’s new constitution created in 2008 afforded couples living in civil unions the same legal rights as those who are married in civil or religious ceremonies. However, the government was slow to respond and update its services accordingly. The Civil Registry refused to allow same-sex couples to include their union status on their identification, saying it did not recognize civil unions as a valid legal status.
This limbo continued until August 22, when President Rafael Correa signed an order requiring the national registry to allow same-sex couples to register their civil union status on their identification documents.
The law took effect on September 15, allowing couples to register in the capital of Quito and the cities of Guayaquil and Cuenca. The Civil Registry has said other cities and municipalities will gradually be incorporated to provide the service to couples across the country.
Heterosexual couples that live together may also register their unions, but the law has received far more attention for the fact that it is available to same-sex partnerships and couples in which one or both partners identifies as transgender.
According to government officials, the primary goal of the new law is to facilitate legal processes. Juan Pablo Álaba, the national director of the Civil Registry’s legal division, emphasized that the registration process is available to all citizens in a long-term relationship, regardless of gender. According to Álaba, civil union status will help one half of a couple receive benefits in the event of their partner’s death and access health services, among other rights.
Diane Rodríguez, a trans woman and high-profile activist in Ecuador’s queer community, was one of the first in line to register her civil union status, along with her partner Nicolás Guamanquispe. Rodríguez is the president of advocacy organization Silueta X and has been a vocal leader of the Ecuador Equal Civil Union campaign.
As of Monday afternoon, 15 couples in the three cities had already registered for civil union status.
While Ecuadorian activists have cheered the civil union registry as an important step in the right direction, some still see it as a case of “separate but equal,” as by definition couples registering for civil unions cannot be married. Though Ecuador’s constitutional granting of the same rights to legally married couples and those with civil unions makes it closer to equality than many other countries that have introduced civil union legislation, a civil union is still not a marriage — a distinction that is important to many couples who do not want their rights to have a different name.
Last year a lesbian couple in Ecuador began a campaign they called “Equal Civil Marriage: the same rights with the same names,” advocating for the right for same-sex couples to register for the same civil marriage licenses available to heterosexual couples.
Same-sex couples currently have the legal right to marry in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico City, while proposed legislation is working its way through the legal systems in both Colombia and Chile.