The South American country of Colombia recognizes a legal vehicle called “common-law marriage”. It is a means by which two people who are living as married are considered married even though they may not have gone through a ceremony or registered with the state.
In Colombia, common law marriages are between those who have lived together for two years or more in a permanant union and neither of whom are married either to each other or anyone else. Until yesterday, they also needed to have been between a man and a woman.
But on Wednesday, the courts of Colombia determined that same-sex couples living together could also have all of the rights of common-law marriage.
The court’s ruling means that civil and political rights such as nationality, residency, housing protection and state benefits will now be granted to same-sex partners.
This was an extension of an earlier decision. In February 2007 the Courts granted property and inheritance rights and in April 2008 added pension and health benefits.
In June 2007, the Colombian legislature attempted to enact civil unions but were thwarted by intense pressure from the Catholic Church and by an unusual political ploy.
Ironically, had civil unions been put in place in 2007, the courts may not have decided as they did. Now to the extent that heterosexual common-law couples are said to be married, so too are same-sex couples.