A same-sex couple dreams of getting married in San Jose. However, an evangelical, a presidential candidate, divides the country and fuels homophobia. Can a conservative politician attack human rights in the country considered to be the happiest in the world?
Marco Arias was born in Costa Rica. His partner is Roberth Castillo, a Venezuelan he met on the Internet. After several years of a long-distance relationship, they decided to move in together. Given the political and economic crisis, Caracas was not an option, so they decided to live in San Jose, capital city of a country without an army and known for its respect for human rights. Mario and Roberth decided they would get married once the Inter-American Court of Human Rights guaranteed the right to equal marriage. Their wedding, however, was frustrated by a hate campaign promoted by religious and conservative movements that opposed what they called the “gender ideology”. All this in the midst of the 2018 presidential election.
The night of April 1st, 2018 was crucial for the couple’s fate: Costa Rica would elect its new president. If Carlos Alvarado from Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citzens Action Party) won, they could rest assured. If evangelical pastor Fabricio Alvarado was elected, their lives, the lives of the LGTBIQ population and the lives of women would be affected. Fabricio Alvarado of Restauración Nacional (National Restauration) was the most radical conservative candidate.
During this presidential campaign, Costa Ricans became aware that for a long time they had been living a myth: being the happiest country in the world. Violence and discrimination grew as a result of hate speech propagated by the evangelical candidate who was backed by conservatives who opposed gender equality. In this context and prior to the presidential elections, the conservative movement organized a march that opposed a free comprehensive education that sought to break with the stereotypes of what it means to be a man or a woman as well as to promote respect for diversity. The march—that propagated lies—did impact the population and ten out of the 13 candidates to the presidency. They opposed what they called a “gender ideology” claiming it promoted homosexuality, equal marriage or the sexual abuse of children. Costa Rican society was divided.
While all this was happening, Mario and Roberth were planning their wedding. However, candidate Fabricio Alvarado took advantage of the context and announced that if he won the presidency, he would not hesitate to condemn the Pact of San Jose and pull out of the IACHR because it promoted a gender approach. This catapulted him to the foreground of politics. In five days, Fabricio Alvarado rose to the top of the polls and the Superior Notarial Council forbade notaries to celebrate same-sex marriages. This was a blow to Mario and Roberth who had to suspend their wedding.
“Our dream was frustrated a few hours and a few days before achieving it”, remembers Mario.
With the support of evangelic groups, Fabricio Alvarado won the first round. Restauración Nacional’s religious conservativism had won and homophobia exploded in the country. Mario and Roberth received threats. They suffered a religious dictatorship and conservatives hadn’t even won the election yet.
However, youth took to the streets and marched against the religious candidate, getting the candidate for Acción Ciudadana, Carlos Alvarado elected president. Thousands celebrated this victory, but the damage was done. The elections left the country divided. The number of evangelical legislators in the Costa Rican congress doubled and Fabricio Alvarado came out stronger. He now knows how to win an election and in four years, he will go for it again.