People in Guayaquil celebrate after Ecuador's Constitutional Court approves same sex marriage. — AFP Photo
QUITO — Ecuador's highest court on Wednesday approved same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling in the traditionally Catholic and conservative South American country.
The Constitutional Court said same-sex marriage had been approved in a five-to-four vote of its nine judges in a closed hearing.
Ecuador, where the church is very influential, thus joins Argentina, Brazil and Colombia in recognising same-sex marriage.
"It means that Ecuador is more egalitarian. It is more just than yesterday, that it recognises that human rights must be for all people without discrimination," said lawyer Christian Paula of the Patka Foundation, which provides legal advice for around 10 same-sex couples seeking to marry in the country.
The four dissenting judges argued that in order to recognise same-sex marriage, constitutional reform would have to be debated in the National Assembly.
Gustavo Medina, a former Supreme Court president, said that Ecuadoran authorities were obliged to abide by decisions of the Constitutional Court, which were "binding and mandatory".
Ecuador has recognised de-facto civil unions for same-sex couples since 2015.
The Constitutional Court approved same-sex marriage as it ruled on lawsuits by two pairs of men who wanted to wed.
The men in one of those couples are named Efrain Soria and Javier Benalcazar.
"I want to say hello to Javier, who is in Guayaquil. Honey, I love you," Soria told reporters in the capital Quito.
He urged other gays to stop hiding and "enjoy the happiness that comes from being equal, like anyone else".
Ecuador's current constitution, ratified in 2008, defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. It also bars same-sex couples from adopting children.
The Constitutional Court judges that approved same-sex marriage said they based their decision on the idea that all people are equal. They also said they sought to counter any kind of discrimination. — AFP