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Panama lawyer: Same-sex marriage benefits ‘entire society’ PANAMA CITY — The lawyer who represents two same-sex couples seeking marriage rights in Panama last week said a ruling in their favor would resonate beyond the country’s LGBT community. “This is very good not only for this community, but also for the entire society to become more in tune with the 21st century and to be a more just society,” Carlos Ernesto González of Morgan & Morgan, which is Panama’s largest law firm, told the Blade on Feb. 28 during an interview at his office in the Panamanian capital. “That’s our aim at the end in reality, nothing else.” González represents Enrique Jelenszky, who legally married his husband, John Winstanley, abroad, and Álvaro Levy, whose spouse, From left, John Winstanley and Enrique Ken Gilberg, is from the U.S. Jelenszky are one of two same-sex couples Panama Supreme Court Justice Luis Ramón Fábrega last seeking marriage rights in Panama. summer heard oral arguments in both lawsuits. They have been Photo courtesy of Enrique Jelenszky subsequently combined into one case. Panamanian law does not legally recognize same-sex couples. González told the Blade he had wanted to file a marriage lawsuit, but it was difficult to find gays and lesbians who wanted to become plaintiffs. “It took us almost a year to find someone willing to go ahead with this fight,” said González, noting Jelenszky contacted him about a potential legal challenge. “He ( Jelenszky) was actually thinking of doing the same thing when we got into contact with each other,” added González. “So we started that case.” González also said Morgan & Morgan’s main partner, Eduardo Morgan, was close to an uncle in New York who was gay. González said the uncle told Morgan a decade ago that “gay marriage” was important “because it provided stability to society and he saw it with his uncle.” Panama would become the first country in Central America to allow same-sex couples to legally marry if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Jelenszky and Levy. Panamanian First Lady Lorena Castillo — whose office has launched an anti-discrimination campaign with U.N. AIDS — and Vice President Isabel de Saint Malo are among the officials in the Central American country who support marriage. Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, and Hunter T. Carter of the New York City Bar Association, who works with advocates throughout Latin America who are seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples in their respective countries, have both filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs. Iván Chanis, a gay Panamanian lawyer who once lived in D.C., is working pro bono with González and Morgan & Morgan on their case. The Panamanian Roman Catholic and Pentecostal churches continue to spearhead opposition to marriage in the country. Fábrega last October drafted a ruling that concluded the two portions of Panama’s family code that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying are not unconstitutional. Fábrega also said the Panamanian National Assembly should consider whether to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Fábrega last month withdrew his draft ruling after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Jan. 9 issued a landmark decision that recognizes same-sex marriage and transgender rights. Panama is among the countries that recognize the American Convention on Human Rights, which the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights enforces. The Panamanian government has signaled it will comply with the ruling, but it remains unclear whether conservative justices will argue the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision is not legally binding. Two of the justices’ terms have ended, but González pointed out to the Blade the National Assembly has rejected President Juan Carlos Varela’s nominees to succeed them. The two justices whose terms have expired oppose marriage. “Right now we’re at an impasse,” González told the Blade. “These justices shouldn’t be there, but they are there and the president has not presented the other two and the opponents want these two to vote.” The Panamanian Alliance for Life and the Family, which represents 10 religious organizations and other groups, this week is scheduled to hold a march against marriage in Panama City. González noted these groups continue to pressure the Supreme Court to rule against the issue. MICHAEL K. LAVERS

Nicaragua trans group seeks to create new leaders MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The head of a transgender advocacy group in Nicaragua on Tuesday said her primary objective is to “create new leaders.” Venus Caballero, executive director of the Organization of Transgender People of Nicaragua (ODETRANS), noted to the Blade during an interview at her office in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua that her organization has 30 active members across the country. She said ODETRANS members are working in the cities of Masaya, León, Chinindega, Chontales and Orotal. Caballero, who also represents the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People (REDLACTRANS) in Nicaragua, told the Blade that ODETRANS has representatives in each of the country’s 15 departments in spite of the fact the organization’s only office is in Managua. “We have trans leaders that are doing work in each one of these departments,” said Caballero. Caballero said ODETRANS’ other objectives include teaching trans Nicaraguans how advocate for their rights, referring to a recent meeting in the northern part of the country that focused on empowering “girls about their human rights, self-care and self-esteem.” She told the Blade that ODETRANS also encourages trans Nicaraguans to become involved in the country’s political process. The Nicaraguan government in 2009 created the Special Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity position within its Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman. The country’s Health Ministry in 2014 issued a resolution that bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in health care. Caballero noted Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is married to President Daniel Ortega of the ruling National Liberation Sandinista Front, recently appeared on Nicaraguan television with a trans woman who had graduated from a prominent university with a communications degree. Caballero described Murillo’s decision to highlight the trans university graduate as a “real paradox” because she remains unemployed. “She (Murillo) can say that okay, we are not against the issue (of trans rights), but we haven’t done anything to support the issue,” said Caballero. Caballero also noted Ortega and Murillo — whose government is becoming increasingly authoritarian — describe Nicaragua as a “Christian, socialist and solidarity” country. The Roman Catholic Church and evangelicals also have significant influence over Nicaraguan politicians. “We are a secular country,” said Caballero. “But our government professes a religion.” Caballero further stressed discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in Nicaragua, even though ODETRANS and other advocacy groups continue to advocate for a comprehensive trans rights law and local nondiscrimination ordinances. MICHAEL K. LAVERS

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