BOGOTA, April 29 (UPI) -- Colombia's high court legalized same-sex marriage, giving couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
The ruling by the Colombian Constitutional Court on Thursday makes Colombia the fourth country in Latin America to extend rights to same-sex couples, joining Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Same-sex couples in Colombia were already allowed to form civil partnerships, but were required to prove they were in a long-term relationship to obtain legal benefits.
Human Rights Watch said it took two years of "legal uncertainty" to legalize gay marriage in the conservative, largely Catholic country. In 2011, the high court ruled Columbia's ruling body must formalize laws to allow gay marriage.
"Congress did not pass the necessary legislation, which led to more than two and a half years of legal uncertainty among judges and notaries," the group said. "Some have performed marriages for same-sex couples while others have not, creating an atmosphere of arbitrary discrimination that the petitioners in the current case -- led by the local group Colombia Diversa -- sought to end."
Before the ruling, Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said the nation's policy of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated "the right to non-discrimination and equality."
"The court's decision to grant all Colombians, regardless of their sexual orientation, the right to marry the people they love is a landmark move for human rights in the country," he said after the high court handed down its ruling.