The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH) has ruled that same-sex marriage should be recognised, delivering a verdict binding on most Latin American states – some of which still hold traditionalist views opposing such unions.
The decision, published Tuesday, was in response to a motion lodged by Costa Rica in May 2016.
States that are signatories to the American Convention on Human Rights adopted in 1969 are required to adhere to the court's rulings.
Several of them already do recognise homosexual marriages, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay. Others, such as Chile and Ecuador, currently recognise same-sex civil unions but not marriages. And some countries, such as Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru acknowledge neither.
Venezuela, which does not recognise same-sex marriage, has withdrawn from the convention.
The United States and Canada, although part of the Organisation of American States (OAS) that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is part of, have not ratified the convention, but both accept same-sex marriages.
The ruling from the Costa Rica-based court said homosexual married couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones existing under each country's laws.
The judges wrote that states "must recognise and guarantee all the rights that are derived from a family bond between people of the same sex.”
As such, it said it was inadmissible and discriminatory for a separate legal provision to be established just for homosexual marriages.
The judges called on the region’s governments to “guarantee access to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination.”
The court acknowledged that some states would face institutional difficulties in bringing in the right for same-sex couples to marry, noting that often opposition was based on religious criteria. That reflected the fact that many Latin Americans identify as Catholic.
But the court said that "in democratic societies, there should exist mutually peaceful coexistence between the secular and the religious," with neither interfering with the other.
Costa Rica's legislation does not currently permit same-sex marriage, although there is recognition of economic and property rights for same-sex couples.
In its motion, the Costa Rican government asked the court to rule on whether it should allow transgender people to change their name on their national identification documents. The judges said the state should approve the move.