A promotional video supporting the Ley de Amor.

One of the most important stories of Venezuela’s legislative elections is the election of Tamara Adrián, a transgender activist who ran as a candidate with opposition party Voluntad Popular. Her election very likely will revive an initiative called the Ley de Amor (Law of Love) started in 2014. In August of this year I spoke with Gerardo Bello and Cristina Carbonell, directors of the Fundación Pro Bono de Venezuela (Provene.org) an NGO that provides probono legal work and has been spearheading this initiative.

David Smilde: Please tell me a little about this project, the Law of Love.

Cristina Carbonell: The Law of Love proposal seeks to promote a debate in the National Assembly of a law that could establish marriage equality in Venezuela. What we are seeking is that people understand why it is important to approve marriage equality and that the community learns about the project that is now in the National Assembly. People need to know what rights have been violated, why those rights are being violated, and the consequences of the approving a marriage equality bill. What we want is for the deputies of the National Assembly to approve a law that will allow persons of the same sex to marry and to be granted all the benefits and rights of marriage.

Gerardo Bello: Yes, as Cristina was saying, what we want is to regularize a situation that is happening de facto in Venezuela, but which has not been recognized in the law. So we sought a proposal written by the gay and lesbian community (LGBTI) which already filled all the requirements of the law–for example the twenty thousand signatures backing the project required for it to be presented to the National Assembly for its discussion. From our Foundation what we did is address this need the gay and lesbian community had. We took a project that already had been introduced to the National Assembly, and we campaigned asking citizens to tell their deputies to discuss that project in the Assembly.

David Smilde: So the proposal already exists?

Gerardo Bello: The proposal was presented to the National Assembly last year. It was introduced by more than fifty gay and lesbian community NGOs, with the backing of more than the required twenty thousand signatures. The problem is that when a new project is presented to the Assembly it has to be debated within a year, and if that year expires then a new request has to be filed for the same project to be discussed. In this case it is a legal proposal by popular initiative, which means that it was presented by a group of citizens. Therefore it has to be presented again with all the requirements of the National Assembly in order to be discussed and re-start all the internal procedures of the Assembly. This is what happened in the 2013-14 legislative period; we waited all of 2014 for the project to be discussed, but it never happened. In 2015 the project was not re-introduced because of all the complications that the legislative elections in 2015 entail. We thought it would be better to wait for next year and present the project again so that the new National Assembly can discuss it.

David Smilde: Speaking more broadly about the issue, you mentioned that other countries, perhaps regarded as more conservative than Venezuela such as Colombia and Mexico, have made more progress. Why do you think this has happened and why hasn’t there been the same progress in Venezuela?

Gerardo Bello: We believe that the political and social situation in our country can explain the lack of priority given to this issue. We have been told that the right to same sex marriage is not a priority because there are other more serious problems such as crime, scarcity, and inflation. It is no secret that Venezuela is going through an important political and social conflict, that there is a crisis, and we realize that people don’t see our problem as a priority. But we are a non-partisan NGO and marriage equality is a priority for us because we consider that until it is approved human rights are being violated. The objective of our foundation is the protection of human rights and justice, and we are here because we represent a community of persons that simply aspire to be full citizens of Venezuela and should enjoy the same rights as all Venezuelans. But those rights are being violated in this case because of their sexual orientation, or because of the life decisions of persons that only aspire to formally live with their partners and share the rest of their life with each other. However they cannot fully do this now, for example they cannot have joint bank accounts because they are not married. Why shouldn’t they be able to marry? Why should they not be able to make medical decisions about their partners? This is a very important issue for us; you can find cases in which a person is ill and his or her partner, even after living with the person for more than 20 years, maybe for even more time that his legal family, cannot make a medical decision on behalf of that person. It’s very easy for a heterosexual person to say that same sex marriage is not necessary for same sex people to love each other, but they are forgetting all the rights that may not be necessary for love, but that are crucial for persons to live with dignity. It is not right that your place in society can be determined by your decision to live with another person.

David Smilde: Speaking of politics, it is interesting that a government that in theory prioritizes inclusion of the marginalized has not taken up this cause. To the contrary, in the past there have been homophobic insults in campaigns.

Cristina Carbonell: If they believe in their socialist ideology they should provide an example. We believe that they have never gauged Venezuela’s public opinion on this issue and they are afraid of making radical decision or of openly supporting the gay and lesbian community. They are afraid of being critiqued because of this. But the Venezuelan mentality has to change; the use of homophobic comments as insults has to stop. We also need to promote education about the rights of gays and lesbians because there is a false myth that by protecting these rights you are somehow causing people to become gay and lesbian, and that is not the case. There is a lot of ignorance about this issue.

Gerardo Bello: In Venezuela this is an ironic issue because it is known that within the pro-government camp (oficialismo,) there are many gays and lesbians, and we can assume that there are chavista deputies that are part of the gay and lesbian community but that don’t speak about the subject. Sometimes there may be offensive remarks against homosexual people by high ranking chavista leaders, and these deputies prefer to remain silent in order to avoid retaliations. I also think they are not fully aware, or are only now beginning to discover, the voting power of the gay and lesbian community. In any case they are not taking advantage from it. On the other hand, within the opposition you find a party like Voluntad Popular that has a team of gays and lesbians because it is a party that understands the importance of recognizing the human rights of everyone and especially of those that have been marginalized. Also because it is a party that understand that there are around two million people belonging to the gay and lesbian community, and therefore there is an important percentage of voters that could tilt an election in your favor if they feel you are including them. They have not been included until now; nobody has capitalized their votes until now. I think that parties are beginning to realize the importance of the number of people that belong to this community and it makes you think, well, if an opposition party says something offensive against this community, it could lose the support of a many voting citizens. This is why I believe that sooner or later same sex marriage will happen, and I believe that one of the accomplishments of our campaign for the Law of Love is that the President of the National Assembly said that it is an issue that is being discussed and that the gay and lesbian community is not being forgotten. Even if the issue was postponed until next year, we think that it was an accomplishment to have the deputies exposed to the information about the law project.

David Smilde: And speaking of the opposition side, one would think that being the issue of freedoms one of their main themes they would take up the issue of same sex marriage, but they really haven’t.

Cristina Carbonell: We believe that, the same as the government, they are afraid of being criticized.

Gerardo Bello: The opposition, even more that the government, is afraid that expressing support for the law project could result in citizens withdrawing their support for them.

Cristina Carbonell: They are afraid of the critiques, they are afraid of the labels, they are afraid of being labeled in a negative way for supporting the gay and lesbian community.

Gerardo Bello: Well, now the fact that Tamara Adrián is a candidate to the National Assembly for Voluntad Popular is a big step and it means more will be more talk about this. It has been widely understood that her sexual orientation and her gender definition has nothing to do with her professional skills. This is an important step because the electoral power (CNE) accepted that Tamara Adrián could fit into the requirements of the an obligatory percentage of women candidates, even if her ID card says she is man. There you have a tacit recognition of gender diversity.

Cristina Carbonell: …of equal rights.

Gerardo Bello: …of the gender of this person and of the right that as a Venezuelan she has to be a candidate in an election. We believe this is important and it sends the right signal. For the first time there will be a deputy that is trans-gender and that was included in the required quota of women candidates. This is very important, and the opposition needs to listen to this and do things that add more votes and instead not be afraid of frightening a few voters. The opposition needs to stop thinking that this is a taboo issue that could make them lose votes. Perhaps they will lose the votes of a few radical persons or groups, but at the same time they will be adding many thousands.

Translated by Hugo Pérez Hernáiz