Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Case Summary & History

Family & Relationships

Case: Karen Atala Riffo v. Chile

STATUS: Victory, Inter-American Human Rights Commission

On May 31, 2004, a Chilean Court ordered Karen Atala Riffo, herself a judge in Chile, to relinquish custody of her three children to her estranged husband because she is a lesbian and living with her female partner. The Supreme Court of Chile based its decision on the long-discredited and unsupportable notion that being raised by lesbian parents is harmful for children. With no legal recourse left in Chile, Ms. Atala took her case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCHR) in Washington, D.C. NCLR, along with the New York City Bar Association, Human Rights Watch, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic at the City University of New York, Lawyers for Children, Inc., Legal Aid Society of New York, and Legal Momentum, filed an amicus brief in support of Ms. Atala, arguing that the Court’s decision is contrary to the weight of international authority.

The IACHR recently ruled that “the Chilean state had violated Karen Atala Riffo’s right to live free from discrimination” when the Court revoked Atala’s custody of her children. The IACHR urged the Chile to make reparations and to adopt “legislation, policies and programmes” to prohibit and eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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