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social sciences

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In 1991, a new Colombian Constitution was ratified, which included key provisions on political, ethnic, human, and gender rights. In recent years the country has experienced economic growth, improved tourism, and a reduction in paramilitary violence.

"Social Cleansing" in Colombia

Since at least the early 1980s, sexual minorities in Colombia have been the target of "social cleansing," or the systematic process of removing undesirable social groups from an area. These desechables ("disposable people"), which include homosexuals and transvestites, as well as street children, vagrants, petty criminals, and prostitutes, have been the victims of assault, extortion, torture, and murder.

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Such "cleansing" is typically carried out by a coalition of police, soldiers, paramilitary squads, merchants, politicians, and civic leaders, who often cite corrupt and ineffectual police and judicial systems, as well as widespread fears about public safety, as a means to justify their actions for "protecting" society.

A 1994 report by Colombian human-rights lawyer and activist Juan Pablo Ordóñez alleged that "around 7,000 of the 40,000 murders in Colombia [in 1993] were right-wing death-squad 'cleansings' of gays, transvestites and prostitutes."

According to Ordóñez, HIV/AIDS-related violence also informs "social cleansing" in Colombia. In December 1993, a bomb was detonated at a Catholic-run shelter in Bogotá for indigent people living with HIV/AIDS. Less than a month later, a group of heavily armed men attacked the shelter, threatening to kill the residents if they did not leave. In his report, Ordoóñez stated that "police did not intervene to protect the shelter, nor did the Catholic hierarchy condemn the violence."

As recently as 2007, the Washington Post quoted Colombian gay-rights activists as saying that "violence against gays is not uncommon and discrimination remains a recurring problem."

Anti-Discrimination Legislation in Colombia

In 1980, the Colombian Criminal Code was amended to decriminalize consensual homosexual activity. Prior to this, homosexual activity was punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The age of consent in Colombia was also equalized at 14 regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation.

Article 13 of the Colombian Constitution of 1991, the country's current governing document that replaced the Constitution of 1886, declares, "The State will promote the conditions necessary in order that equality may be real and effective, and will adopt measures in favor of groups which are discriminated against or marginalized."

Despite this plain language, the document has not generally been held to guarantee protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, some recent interpretations of the constitution have expanded glbtq rights.

In 1998, Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled that private religious schools could not ban gay students from enrolling. The court declared "homosexuality is a condition of the human person that implies the choice of a life option equally as respectable and valid as any other."

That same year the Constitutional Court ruled that public school teachers could not be fired for revealing their sexual orientation, overturning as discriminatory a 1979 law that made a teacher's homosexuality grounds for dismissal. "Homosexuality is not contagious," said Germán Humberto Rincón, the lawyer who brought the suit before the court.

In 1999, the court unanimously ruled that the country's armed forces could not ban homosexuals from serving. The court stated that the previous ban violated a soldier's "constitutional rights to intimacy, free development of one's personality, and defense of one's family." The new ruling allows military personnel to reveal their sexual orientation and live on base with their same-sex partner. Even so, harassment and mistreatment of gays in the military continue to be reported.

Same-Sex Partnership Recognition In Colombia

In a 1996 court case brought by glbtq-rights activists seeking same-sex partnership rights in such areas as inheritance and medical care, Colombia's Supreme Court ruled against any marriage rights for gay couples, declaring that "the family is the only social unit and it is formed when a man and a woman freely decide to marry."

Three years later, on September 8, 1999, Margarita Londono, a member of the Colombian Senate, introduced a bill to add sexual orientation to the existing list of bias crimes categories, and to create legal partnerships for same-sex couples that would extend social security benefits and health care coverage for gay couples. The bill was rejected almost immediately by the Colombian Senate.

However, between February 2007 and April 2008, three historic rulings of the Constitutional Court extended several common-law marriage rights to registered same-sex couples, granting them many of the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

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