Ecuador’s constitution extols “families of diverse types,” but this conservative, Catholic society is struggling to figure out how children raised by parents of the same sex fit that lofty ideal.
A British lesbian couple have sparked controversy at a time when attitudes about same-sex couples are changing in other countries, including nearby Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage.
Ecuadorians have been closely following the case of Nicola Rothon and Helen Bicknell, each of whom is claiming the right to call herself the mother of their newborn.
After their daughter Satya Amani was born in December of last year, the longtime couple tried to register their joint maternity with local authorities, but were denied.
The women, both 34, then filed a claim alleging discrimination and demanding that state prosecutors protect their constitutional rights, but were turned down.
“The constitution protects us, but there is a loophole and that needs to be fixed. It will not be easy,” Rothon told reporters recently.
“It’s always the case that when you’re the first ones, you’ve got to fight to change the laws,” added Bicknell who, with her partner, makes a living teaching English and raising organic produce on the outskirts of Quito.
Rothon said she worries that if she were to die, the government might keep her daughter, since her partner has no biological tie to the infant.
“If something happens to me, does she go to an orphanage?” she said.
The women were considering taking the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an arm of the Organization of American States (OAS).
They met met 16 years ago in Kenya, where they worked as volunteers. They entered into a civil union in Britain in 2010 and tied the knot at a ceremony in Ecuador the following year.
Their baby was conceived with semen donated by a mutual friend, but although parenthood was entered into as a joint endeavor only Rothon, who carried the child to term, is seen as the child’s parent.
The case has sparked controversy in Ecuador, an avowedly secular country with an 80 percent Catholic population.
The Catholic Church here has kept a low profile in the dispute, but is emphatic in embracing only heterosexual marriage.
“There is only one mother,” said Antonio Arregui, president of the conference of bishops.
The view of most Ecuadorians, he said, is that “a normal family is father, mother and children.”
Isabel Salazar, 42, a member of a group that rejects gay marriage and abortion, disputes Bicknell and Rothon’s claims to parenthood.
“We respect gays and lesbians, but they are a marginal group,” she told AFP.
She added that child raising is a task that required the “complementarity of a male and female parent.”
But the couple also has supporters, including Sarahi Maldonado, 20, who is an activist with a group defending the rights of Ecuador’s “sexual minorities,” including gays and lesbians.
Maldonado said the state promotes homophobia and archaic ideas about family.
“It is outrageous to believe that you can’t have a family in which no man is present,” she said.
“In daily life we see so many cases of men who do not acknowledge paternity, and nobody talks about the impact of abortions or broken families,” she said, decrying what she said was a “clear double standard.”
Bicknell said she agreed with the conventional view here that two parents are better than one, but rejected the idea that the couple has to be of two sexes.
“For any child, it’s best if two people love him and want to give him the best,” she said.