Gay couples in the deeply Conservative Catholic country of Colombia have won equal social security rights following a Constitutional Court ruling.

In June, Colombia’s conservative President Alvaro Uribe gave his backing to the country becoming the first in Latin America to nationally give gay couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and benefits. This followed a bill passing through the country’s Congress.

However, Senators then used a procedural motion to effectively change their minds on the issue and throw out the bill.

The Constitutional Court said gay couples should have equal treatment for health and other social security benefits.

However, gay rights activist Virgilio Barco warned: “The only way for us to enact this last provision will be through another appeal to the Constitutional Court. Congress had the opportunity to do it but a small group of senators sabotaged the bill at the last minute.”

Although homosexual relationships were decriminalised in the 1980s, serious human rights violations against LGBT people are commonplace.

The war-torn country of 45 million people is heavily Roman Catholic, and many armed militias involve themselves in “social cleansing,” targeting LGBT people.

The police have also been accused on numerous occasions for abuse of authority and mistreatment of gay people.

Social fears around HIV and AIDS and the perceived moral influence of gays and lesbians on children allow paramilitary and guerrilla forces to target LGBT people as part of their desire to control territory.

Gays and lesbians in cities are also targeted by gangs who routinely rob and blackmail them and attack gay venues.

However, since the election of Álvaro Uribe Vélez in 2002, the general security situation has improved somewhat. The country’s parliament are currently considering whether to legalise civil unions.

It is still not clear how far the court’s decision will go in recognising same-sex partner rights.

Last year 10 South American countries, including Colombia, expressed approval and agreed to action with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity being included within the human rights agenda.