Judge Karen Atala of Chile lost custody of her three daughters in 2004 when she announced she was a lesbian. But now, she has reason to celebrate: after eight years of court battles, Atala, 48, learned Tuesday that the Inter-American Court (IACHR) ruled in favor of her right to the custody of her children, who will return to live with her and her partner, Emma de Ramón.
According to The Santiago Times, the Court has ruled that the State of Chile must pay Atala US$60,000 in compensation, only 10 percent of what she had originally sought. In addition, Chile will also pay her US$12,000 for legal fees.
Atala herself will receive US$20,000 for her suffering as a result of the experience, and US$10,000 for medical and psychological expenses. Her children will each receive US$10,000 for “intangible damages.”
The Court also ruled that the government should publicly and internationally recognize its responsibility for the discrimination leveled against Atala, as well as “implement programs and permanent courses of education and training to public officials at regional and national levels" to combat the poor decision made by the Supreme Court in this instance.
While the ruling is good news for Atala and her children, the Court's decision did not question the discriminatory nature of Chile's laws, but instead condemned the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law.
"The claim of Karen Atala as a wife, mother, and lesbian and the legitimacy of her right to all of those roles in life was fractured by a court decision in 2004. Her and her family’s lives were never the same. Today, this damage, irreparable as it is, has to some extent been offset," Jorge Contesse, ex-director of the Center of Human Rights for the Universidad de Diego Portales and Judge Atala’s lawyer, told The Santiago Times.
Sources from La Moneda (the Chilean equivalent of the White House) consider the ruling to be less serious than they had expected, since it has not required their Government to amend any laws, either in the Constitution or the Civil Code.
While this decision has done little to change the law in Chile regarding discrimination against LGBT communities, which will disappoint many who worked on Judge Atala’s case, it proves how far Chile and Latin America as a whole have come in recent years.
According to Contesse, the Inter-American Court's decision does send a strong message, however, and is a precedent for Chile and the rest of South America:
“Latin America is today debating issues that years ago would have been unthinkable. The Inter-American Court is involved in these debates and this decision sends the strongest signal possible. It is, without doubt, a great day for law and justice.”
What do you think of the Court’s ruling in Judge Atala’s custody case? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below.