Gay and lesbian couples in Colombia are entitled to the same rights as straight couples in common-law marriages, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled yesterday.

In April 2008 gay rights group Colombia Diversa, the Centre for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) and the Group of Public Interest Law at the University of the Andes, filed a lawsuit for equal rights for unmarried heterosexual and same-sex partners.

The court’s ruling means that civil and political rights such as nationality, residency, housing protection and state benefits will now be granted to same-sex partners.

Colombia’s 1991 constitution promises equal rights for all citizens.

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

The South American country of 45 million people is heavily Roman Catholic, and there is significant discrimination against gay people, despite recent court rulings granting rights to same-sex couples.

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

However, since the election of Álvaro Uribe Vélez in 2002, the general security situation has improved somewhat.

Attempts to legalise civil unions failed last year.