Panama: Support Civil Union Proposal Now under Attack by the Catholic Church


The Asociacion Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panama (AHMNP) has submitted a legislative proposal to recognize basic conjugal rights to same-sex couples. In response, the local Catholic Church has launched a vicious campaign.
AHMNP is requesting letters from organizations and individuals around the world in support of the proposal and affirming that marriage/civil union is a civil law issue and as such is to be regulated by the State and not by the Church, AHMNP will deliver these letters to the Panamanian Parliament.


Please write today to

Ricardo Beteta (President of AHMNP)
Apartado 87-0002
Panama 7
Republica de Panama

You will find below a model letter in Spanish and its translation into English. We suggest that you send the Spanish version, to make communication easier with the Panamanian MPs. You are also welcome to write your own letter.


To Whom It May Concern:

We write to support the "Equality Before the Law for Stable Couples" proposal submitted by Asociacion Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panama (AHMNP) to the Panamanian Parliament.

We are aware of the criticism voiced by some sectors of the Panamanian Catholic Church against this proposal and we would like to address some of their concerns:

  • The proposal has been rejected as being "against God’s plan". All religious beliefs deserve utmost respect, and in fact, this is a basic principle of human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, it is also important to acknowledge that the right to religious freedom applies to all religious practices, and not just the religious practice that is dominant. Moreover, many societies are diverse in their religious and spiritual practices – and Panama is no exception.. People of many different faiths made up Panamanian society, as well as people without any religious faith (a right also protected as part of religious freedom). As a secular state – Panama's Constitution recognizes the Catholic Church as being that of the "majority" but does not provide it with any official status (Article 35)- Panama's civil law mustserve and protect everyone, majorities and minorities alike, and can not be ruled by any particular group’s beliefs. Churches have their own laws, by which their faithful are ruled, and though which, according to each religious and spiritual tradition, God’s plan becomes manifest. But these rules apply only to those who practice the particular faith. Civil law is more modest – it only attempts to reflect what women and men who make up a particular society plan for their lives in order to fully enjoy those rights that humanity has recognized as essential to a dignified life, regardless of the absence or presence of religious faith.
  • This proposal is not about changing the nature of marriage, in civil law, but about creating a new status that recognizes the fact that many women and men in Panama have long-term relationships with people of their same sex and these families lack any protection that the law grants to those who are married or in an otherwise de-facto union with someone of a different sex. The goal of this legislative proposal is to bring about equality for same-sex and different-sex couples in terms of social benefits, inheritance, taxes and conjugal visits in jails or hospitals.
  • Unlike religious law, that the Churches consider revealed by God to his prophets and/or saints, civil law is the product of dialogue and negotiation among human beings, and as such has the potential to be modified according to changing social circumstances. For example, when in the past few decades, societies realized that discrimination against women violated basic principles of equality, their legal situation was radically changed –in the 19th century women not only were deprived the right to vote, but also to inherit property, to manage their own economic affairs and to work. The same is happening now with the situation of same-sex couples that in many countries around the world have started to enjoy a more or less equal status with those of different sexes.
  • Opponents of the proposal claim that it will be "detrimental to the family". The notion of "family" has been widely discussed in civil societies around the world for many years. Yet in Panama, as in many communities worldwide, many different kinds of families exist - two-parent families, single-parent families, extended families, etc. There is one definition that we find particularly useful, as it highlights not the structure but the function that a family must fulfil. In 1996, the South African Department of Welfare stated defined a family as "individuals who either by contract or agreement choose to live together intimately and function as a unit in a social and economic system. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the family is the primary social unit in society, and, ideally, it provides care, nurturing, and socialisation for its members. It seeks to provide them with physical, economic, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual security". Under that definition, the AHMNP proposal in fact strengthens the idea of family. And a civil law that supports the diversity of existing family configurations reflects a society that values every kind of solidarity and mutual support arrangements that its members create.
  • Proponents of the proposal have pointed out that if it is passed, it will remedy the situation of inequality before the law under which same-sex couples currently live in Panama, in terms of access to housing, social benefits, pensions and other benefits granted by the State, as part of its obligation to provide "a social order in which rights and freedoms can be fully realized" (Article 28 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration).
  • With the passage of this law, Panama will join the growing ranks of countries around the world--currently 18--that grant all or some conjugal rights to same sex couples (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom). At the state level, Rio Negro (Argentina) and Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), as well as the city of Buenos Aires and six Brazilian cities recognize some basic economic and social rights to same sex-couples.
  • It is worth noting that many of the countries mentioned above are among those exhibiting the highest scores in terms of human development and gender equity. Recognition of the different forms of living arrangements that exist in every community would seem to go hand-in-hand with the building of societies in which all can live in a more human and fair way.

We trust you will support this proposal, as it deserves,


(Name, address, organization)

A quien pueda interesar

Escribimos para apoyar el proyecto de "Igualdad jurídica para parejas estables" presentado por la Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá (AHMNP) ante el Congreso Nacional.

Hemos sabido acerca de las críticas planteadas por algunos sectores de la iglesia católica panameña al proyecto y quisiéramos tratar en detalle algunas de las preocupaciones que las mismas reflejan.

  • El proyecto ha sido rechazado por ir "contra el plan de Dios". Todas las creencias religiosas merecen el mayor de los respetos, pero también es importante reconocer que las sociedades son diversas, y Panamá no es una excepción en este punto. La sociedad panameña está formada por personas de muchas creencias religiosas diferentes, así como por personas que no profesan religión alguna. Como producto del estado laico que Panamá es – su Constitución reconoce a la reglión católica como la que profesan "la mayoría de los panameños" pero no le otorga estatus oficial alguno (Artículo 35)- su ley civil necesita servir y proteger a todas las personas, tanto a las mayorías como a las minorías, y no puede regirse por las creencias religiosas de ningún sector en particular. Las iglesias tienen sus propias leyes, que rigen para sus fieles, y es mediante ellas que cada iglesia considera que el plan de Dios se manifiesta. La ley civil es más modesta: sólo intenta reflejar lo que las mujeres y los hombres que forman una determinada sociedad planean para sus vidas de tal manera que todas y todos puedan ejercer los derechos que la humanidad ha reconocido como fundamentales para una vida digna, profesen o no una religión determinada.
  • El proyecto no intenta cambiar la naturaleza del matrimonio según la ley civil, sino que crea una nueva figura que reconoce el hecho de que muchas mujeres y hombres en Panamá mantienen relaciones de compromiso a largo plazo con personas de su mismo sexo y carecen de toda la protección que la ley otorga a quienes se casan o conviven con alguien de un sexo diferente al suyo. El proyecto tiene que ver con la igualdad entre las parejas formadas por personas del mismo sexo y las formadas por personas de sexos diferentes en términos de beneficios sociales, herencia, impuestos y visita conyugal en la cárcel o en el hospital.
  • A diferencia de la ley religiosa, que las iglesias consideran es revelación de Dios a sus profetas y/o santos, la ley civil es producto del diálogo y la negociación entre seres humanos, y como tal tiene la posibilidad de modificarse según vayan cambiando las circunstancias sociales. Cuando las sociedades tomaron conciencia que la discriminación contra las mujeres violaba los principios básicos de igualdad, la situación legal de ellas cambió en forma radical: en el siglo XIX las mujeres no estaban privadas sólo del derecho al voto sino que tampoco podían heredar, o administrar sus propiedades o trabajar. Lo mismo está sucediendo ahora con la situación de las parejas del mismo sexo que en muchos países del mundo ya han comenzado a disfrutar de un estatus más o menos similar al de aquellas de sexos diferentes.
  • El proyecto también ha sido acusado de "perjudicar a la familia". La noción de "familia" viene discutiéndose en las sociedades civiles del mundo entero desde hace ya varios años. Hay una definición que consideramos particularmente útil, porque pone el acento no en la estructura sino en la función que la familia debe cumplir. En 1996, el Departamento de Bienestar Social en Sudáfrica definió familia como: "Personas que ya sea por contrato o por acuerdo eligen vivir juntas en relación íntima y funcionar como unidad dentro del sistema social y económico. La familia es la unidad primaria de la sociedad que, idealmente, brinda cuidado, nutrición y socialización a quienes la integran. Busca otorgarles seguridad física, económica, emocional, social, cultural y espiritual". Bajo esa luz, el proyecto de la AHMNP lo que hace es fortalecer la idea de familia. Y una ley civil que apoye toda la diversidad de configuraciones familiares que existen refleja a una sociedad que valora todas las formas de solidaridad y apoyo mutuo que sus integrantes crean.
  • Aprobar el proyecto de la AHMNP servirá para remediar la situación de desigualdad ante la ley en que actualmente se encuentran las parejas del mismo sexo en Panamá, en términos de su acceso a la vivienda, beneficios sociales, pensiones y otros otorgados por el Estado, como parte de su obligación de crear "un orden social en el que los derechos y libertades se hagan plenamente efectivos" (Artículo 28 de la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos).
  • Con la aprobación de esta ley, Panamá se sumará al creciente número de países del mundo (18 en la actualidad) que otorgan todos o algunos de los derechos conyugales a las parejas del mismo sexo (Alemania, Australia, Austria, Bélgica, Canadá, Dinamarca, España, Finlandia, Francia, Hungría, Islandia, Nueva Zelanda, Noruega, Países Bajos, Portugal, Reino Unido, Sudáfrica y Suecia). A nivel provincial, Río Negro (Argentina) y Rio Grande do Sul (Brasil), así como la ciudad de Buenos Aires y seis ciudades brasileñas reconocen derechos económicos y sociales a las parejas del mismo sexo.
  • Es importante señalar que la mayoría de los países mencionados en el párrafo anterior exhiben los puntajes más altos en materia de desarrollo humano y equidad de género. Parecería que el reconocimiento de las diferentes formas de convivencia que existen en toda comunidad va de la mano con la construcción de sociedades en las que todas las personas pueden vivir de forma más humana y más justa.

Confiamos en que usted le dará a este proyecto todo el apoyo que se merece.



The right to equality before the law and to be free from discrimination are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Articles 2 and 7, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 2 and 26, and by the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) in its Articles 1 and 24. "sex" is a protected category under all those treaties.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation. The UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights has made a similar observation, in its General Comment 14 on the right to health- to be applied to all economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to social security is protected by the UDHR (Article 22) and by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (Article 9, including also social insurance).

The right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and ones’ family (including rights to food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social service, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness disability, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond ones control and the continuous improving of living conditions) is protected by the UDHR (Article 25.1) and the ICESCR (Article 11.1)

The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is protected by the ICESCR (Article 12.1)

The right to the protection of the family is enshrined in Article 16 of the UDHR, Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), Article 23 of the ICCPR, Article 17 of the IAHRC.

In terms of social, economic and cultural rights it is worth noting that the IAHRC (Article 26) mandates signatory states to "adopt measures with a view to achieving progressively, by legislation or other appropriate means, the full realization of the rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific and cultural standards set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States" (basically, those protected by the ICESCR).

Panama ratified ICCPR and ICESCR in 1977, IACHR in 1978 and CRC in 1990. The UDHR is considered customary law for all Member States of the United Nations, including Panama.


According to our files (as of September 2004), the following cities, states and countries around the world protect the rights of same-sex couples:

In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande do Sul recognizes same-sex civil unions. The cities of Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), Pelotas (RGS), Recife (Pernambuco), Porto Alegre (RGS), Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro) and Sao Paulo (SP) grant equality for same-sex partners of state employees. Judicial verdicts at the Federal level have granted the right to permanent residence for foreign same-sex partners of Brazilian citizens, as well as the right to receive pension benefits s for same-sex couples.Court decisions recognizing the right to receive pension benefits for same-sex couples have also been issued in Argentina and Uruguay.

In Costa Rica, the National Insurance Institute has stated that same-sex couples can jointly apply for health and insurance policies, as well as for housing credits.

Civil union proposals at the federal level have been introduced to the Parliaments of Brazil, Chile and Peru.

In Europe, the Netherlands and Belgium provide same-sex couples with full access to marriage, on equal terms with straight couples. Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland have granted registered unions all conjugal rights, except adoption, access to reproductive technologies and church weddings. Denmark, Iceland and Norway also allow adoption of the partner's children. The United Kingdom allows its citizen to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes and it also allows same-sex couples to jointly adopt children. Spain, Catalonia, Aragón, Navarra and Valencia grant all conjugal rights, except adoption, to same-sex couples.

Australia has no federal protection for same sex couples, but its Migration Program allows Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens to sponsor their same-sex partner to remain in or migrate to Australia. Several Australian provinces have domestic partnership laws (Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria). New Zealand allows single women and lesbian couples access to state-funded reproductive technologies.

Canada also has no federal protection, but four of its states recognize same-sex marriage (British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Yukon Territory) while others have same sex unions (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan). Joint adoption by same-sex couples is allowed in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec

South Africa grants same-sex couples social and employment benefits and immigration rights.

In the USA, the state of Massachusetts recognizes same-sex marriages, while domestic partners (of the same sex) are recognized for some benefits in California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont. Same-sex couples can jointly adopt in California, and those in registered unions may adopt their partner's children in Vermont.


Article 35 of the Panamanian Constitution affirms, "There is freedom to practice all religions and cults". It "recognizes Catholic faith as being that of the majority of the Panamanians". Thus, Panama is a secular State, with no official links with any religion, including the Catholic Church. Article 36 states that "Religious associations have legal capacity and they manage their assets according to the limitations established by Law".

Article 52 affirms the right to "protection of the family". Right to social security is affirmed in Article 105 and right to pension in Article 109.


The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status. A US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), IGLHRC effects this mission through advocacy, documentation, coalition building, public education, and technical assistance.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
c/o HRW
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
NY, NY 10118
t. 1-212-216-1278
f. 1-212-216-1876


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