LGBT rights in Panama

LGBT rights in Panama

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 2008
Gender identity/expression Change of legal gender allowed, following sex reassignment surgery
Discrimination protections No
Family rights
Recognition of

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Panama may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Panama. Same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal benefits and protections available to opposite-sex married couples.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Panama since 2008; Panama was the last Spanish-speaking country in Latin America to remove its anti-sodomy law.[1][2] The age of consent is equal at 18.

Recognition of same-sex relationships

There is no recognition of same-sex couples. A proposal that would have provided for same-sex civil unions was defeated in 2004, mainly due to pressure on the Government from the Catholic Church.[3] 12% of Panamanians support same-sex marriage being recognized in the country.[4]

On 8 May 2014, the Code of Private International Law was approved. The code prohibits same-sex marriages in Panama and clarifies that the country will not recognize the legality of these marriages if performed in another country. Article 40 specifies "same-sex marriages are strictly prohibited in the country." [5]


On 17 October 2016, a married same-sex couple filed an action of unconstitutionality against Article 26 of the Panamanian Civil Code, seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in the country. Article 26 establishes that marriage is between a man and a woman and as such bans same-sex marriage. Magistrate Luis Ramón Fabrega was assigned to the case and had to decide whether to admit the case to the 9-member Supreme Court of Justice.[6][7] In early November, the case was admitted to the Supreme Court.[8]

Pact of National Commitment for Life and Traditional Family

Signed on 15 April 2014, this document was created months before the 2014 presidential elections; five of the seven presidential candidates signed it. The document stated that "the country should guarantee freedom of religion and should modify the law to protect the traditional structure of the family, defined as the union of a man and a woman."[5]

Adoption and parenting

Same-sex couples are unable to legally adopt in Panama.

However, IVF and artificial insemination are available to lesbian couples in the country.[9][10]

Discrimination protections

There are no laws protecting gays from discrimination. Article 39 of the Constitution forbids the creation of "companies, associations or foundations" that are contrary to moral or legal order. In the past this has been used to refuse registration of gay organisations.

In August 2015, a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, was introduced in the National Assembly.[11]

Gender identity/expression

Since 2006, transgender persons in Panama can change their legal gender and name on their birth certificates, but only after having undergone sex reassignment surgery.[12]

In May 2016, a 22-year-old Panamanian transgender woman was allowed to change her name, so that it matches her gender identity, without having undergone surgery.[13] This was the first time a transgender person in Panama could change their name without first undergoing surgery.

Machismo and sexual orientation

Due to machismo, the perceived level of masculinity of men in Latin American countries determines the amount of respect they receive in society. Because homosexual men are associated with feminine attributes, they are perceived with lower level of masculinity, and as a result, they receive less respect than heterosexual men in society. This, in turn, can limit their “ability to achieve upward social mobility, to be taken seriously, or to hold positions of power.” Also, because homosexuality is seen as taboo or even sinful in Christian faiths, homosexual men tend to lack a support system, leaving many unable express their true sexuality. To deal with such oppression, they must make the choice either to conform to heteronormativity and repress their homosexual identity, to assimilate towards masculine ideals and practices while maintaining their homosexual identity in private, or to openly express their homosexuality and suffer ostracization from society. This creates a hierarchy of homosexuality corresponding to how much “respect, power, and social standing” a homosexual man can expect to receive. The more a man acts in accordance with the stereotypical heterosexual hegemonic masculinity, the higher on the social hierarchy they are. On the lower end of the hierarchy are the locas or maricones. These men are those that are deemed as effeminate because they do not live by the social construct of hegemonic masculinity and also publicize their homosexuality. As such, they receive little respect both in society in general and among the LGBT community. Many homosexual men resist being associated with the “loca” stereotype by either demonstrating overt masculinity or by ridiculing and distancing themselves from other “loca” men. A common saying demonstrates this resistance: “mejor un drogadicto que un pato” (better a drug addict than a faggot). Because of the negative connotations that come with identifying as homosexual, the definition of homosexuality has become ambiguous. By genderizing sexual practices, only men who are sexually penetrated during sex, locas are considered homosexual while men who are the sexual penetrators during sex can maintain their heterosexual identity. Also, in many Latin American countries, the media portrayal of homosexual men often play into the stereotype of an effeminate, flamboyant male role. As a result, the idea of a masculine homosexual man remains almost unheard of and privatized by the community and by society, which allows this stereotype of homosexual men as locas to persist.

LGBT rights movement in Panama

LGBT flag map of Panama

In 1996, Panama's first lesbian and gay organisation Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá (AHMNP; "New Men and Women of Panama Association") was founded. It received legal recognition in 2005 after a three-year battle with the authorities and the Catholic Church. It is still the only gay and lesbian organisation in Panama.

In 2004, they presented a petition calling for partnership rights. In June 2005, Panama's first Gay Pride March was held with 100 AHMNP demonstrators. In May 2015, the second LGBT-rights organisation was formed in Panamá: Unión de la diversidad.[14]

Public opinion

According to Pew Research Center survey, conducted between November 13 and December 8, 2013, 23% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, 72% were opposed.[15][16]

In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, a LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society’s view on homosexuality, how do they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied are they with their lives. Panama was ranked 55th, just above Peru and below Madagascar, with a GHI score of 44.[17]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal (Since 2008)
Equal age of consent
Anti-discrimination laws in employment (Proposed)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services (Proposed)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) (Proposed)
Same-sex marriages
Recognition of same-sex couples
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples
Joint adoption by same-sex couples
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Has no military
Right to change legal gender (Since 2006)
Access to IVF for lesbians
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples
MSMs allowed to donate blood

See also


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