San José (AFP) - Costa Rica's Supreme Court has ordered a statutory ban on same-sex marriages be struck down as unconstitutionally discriminatory and has given lawmakers -- including a high proportion of evangelicals who promote heterosexual-only unions -- 18 months to change the laws in that sense.
The decision, issued late Wednesday, complies with an opinion given seven months ago by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights declaring that homosexual couples have the same rights as heterosexual ones to marry.
Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado welcomed the Supreme Court's order.
"We continue to deploy actions that guarantee no person will face discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that the state's protection be given to all families under equal conditions," he wrote on Twitter.
Gay rights associations also hailed the decision.
Costa Rica has a strong Catholic tradition and has also seen a proliferation of evangelical churches in recent decades. Many followers of those denominations are opposed to gay marriages.
In April this year, Alvarado, a centrist, was elected to the presidency by comfortably seeing off a challenge by an evangelical preacher, Fabricio Alvarado (no relation), who campaigned against homosexual unions.
But evangelical lawmakers fill 14 of the single-chamber Legislative Assembly's 57 seats -- their highest proportion ever. They are unlikely to back a lifting of the gay-marriage ban currently enshrined in family law.
"I see it as not very likely that in 18 months the Legislative Assembly will work out a law," said Enrique Sanchez, a lawmaker in President Alvarado's Citizen Action Party.
"What I see happening is that the norm (the gay-marriage ban) will simply be declared unconstitutional in 18 months' time," said Sanchez, who is the country's first openly gay member of the legislature.
One evangelical lawmaker, Jonathan Prendas, complained that the Supreme Court decision "put a gun to our head" to change the law as directed.