A new president in Colombia

What kind of future is in store for LGBTQ+ rights in Colombia?
Photo by torbakhopper / (CC BY 2.0) / Source: Flickr

Iván Duque has now assumed the presidency in Colombia, and these political changes will inevitably have an effect on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

In his recent inauguration speech, he wowed crowds outside the Casa de Nariño with captivating rhetoric and a sharply tailored suit, but whilst he touched on many issues of importance such as the peace agreement and his commitment to gender parity within his cabinet, he did not once mention LGBTQ+ rights.

What can we expect therefore judging from his behaviour, discourse and actions before and during the presidential race? Will he secure LGBTQ+ rights or should we be concerned they are at risk?

Colombia: Duque’s Confusing and Unclear Message

The recent elections in Colombia have been revolutionary in that for the first time in democratic history, the left gained enough support and representation to engage in the presidential stand-off.

Despite this political breakthrough, the winning candidate was recently inaugurated conservative Ivan Duque of the Democratic Centre party, a sceptic of the peace process with the FARC and political ally of the influential yet ultra-conservative ex-president, Alvaro Uribe (Uribe chose to use his powerful voice to endorse Duque throughout the campaign).

It is worth noting that although the Supreme Court of Colombia declared that same-sex couples are entitled to adoption rights in 2015 and in the following year declared they were also entitled to legally wed, a survey conducted by Gallup Colombia revealed that 62% of individuals were against same-sex marriage. LGBTQ+ groups are also vulnerable to violence, and in 2015, a report by the CIDH found that 110 homosexual and non-binary people were murdered whilst police and state sponsored violence is much higher in areas with trans sex worker presence.

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Duque’s campaign occurs in the context of this simultaneous progression and digression. His views on many issues relating to LGBTQ+ rights have been unclear throughout his campaign, and his official governance plan does not mention them once.

During the first televised debate, those aspiring to the Casa de Nariño were asked if they agreed with same-sex marriage to which they had to answer either yes or no. Every candidate proclaimed yes, apart from Duque. He avoided a direct answer and instead opted to say “I’m in favour of equal civil and economic rights”, a vague statement that shows his apprehension regarding the issue and his uneasiness at declaring his support.

In an interview with ‘El Tiempo’ however, he expressed his outright lack of agreement with same-sex couples adopting, proclaiming that children deserve the best family possible, “not that which the parents desire to create”.

Worrying Alliances

Duque is also surrounded by many vocal opponents of LGBTQ+ rights including pastors and evangelists. During his victory speech, he made a special reference to two figures -Alejandro Ordóñez and Viviane Morales – that has ignited dread that some rights could now be in danger. Ordóñez is known for his desire to turn Colombia into a Catholic state and has made public statements claiming homosexual couples are unsuitable to bring up and educate children.

Morales, an evangelical senator, recently spearheaded a failed referendum that would have prohibited same-sex couples from adopting had it been successful. Public policy expert Ana María Arbeláez warns we must be wary of the fact that, as she puts it:

Duque’s nomination was supported by the most conservative sectors of the country and by those opposing the peace agreements. These people have spoken out against this so-called gender ideology and equal marriage because they believe the family should only be constituted by a man and a woman”.

Additionally, Uribe, Duque’s most powerful supporter who received special recognition during his inauguration speech, recently defended the right to conscientious objection to issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion in a video where he also referred to members of the LGBTQ+ community derogatively as ‘non-heterosexuals’.

Conscientious objection refers to the right of members of a religious community to reject certain laws and principles on the basis that they are incompatible with their religious beliefs, and is founded on the premise that religious freedom should be valued above other civic freedoms.

Although the 1991 Constitution cemented Colombia’s transition from a religious to a secular state in which the Constitution, rather than any religion, would provide guidance to the nation, there has always been a strong overlap between religion and the State.

The Catholic church which previously had a tight grasp on the Colombian government began losing part of its influence to the rising tide of evangelism, which begun to rapidly grow throughout the 90s and early 2000s.

Catholics, who maintained their hold on the State through agreements with the Conservative party, became quickly overshadowed by the evangelist movement and their charismatic leaders who managed to achieve representation in the senate and gain access to Colombia’s political elites.

What can we expect?

Duque’s links to the evangelist elites and his desire to secure their support may well determine what stance he decides to take on LGBTQ+ issues. The ultra-conservative and evangelist sectors have already proved themselves as important political actors after successfully mobilising millions of their supporters to vote “No” in the 2016 referendum regarding the peace agreements with the FARC, and Duque may want to secure their loyalty early on.

On the other hand, he is the youngest president in the history of Colombia, and now that he has won the elections with a significant mandate, he may decide to distance himself from the conservative ideals that helped him secure the presidency on the 27th of May. His own vague discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ issues wrings of a populism lacking in ideological direction, which could indicate that his stance may change.

One thing that is certain is that any change to LGBTQ+ rights already acquired would have to go through the process of a popular referendum and this would be no easy feat. Only time will tell if Duque’s rhetoric and his alliances truly have an effect, or if he takes a step back from his conservative inner circle and decides to govern for Colombia and all Colombians.

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Gender
Beverly Goldberg

Beverly Goldberg is a graduate of Hispanic and Latin American Studies and is also interning at the online publication democraciaAbierta. She is currently based in Barcelona, where she is completing her masters in International Relations.
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