Colombia court OKs health benefits for gay couples

BOGOTA, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Gay couples in Colombia won the same social security rights as their straight counterparts in a court ruling called a major advance for homosexuals in this conservative Roman Catholic country.

In a decision embraced by rights groups but opposed by the church, the Constitutional Court said on Friday it extended health benefits long enjoyed by heterosexuals in common law marriages to same-sex couples.

The first nationwide law of its kind in Latin America, the measure allows homosexuals to include their partners in their health insurance plans.

A bill granting these benefits was passed by Congress in June but thrown out when a group of senators used a procedural vote to change their minds on the measure.

Included in the defeated measure was a provision to extend common law pension benefits to gay couples.

"It looks like the only way for us to enact this last provision will be through another appeal to the Constitutional Court. Congress had the opportunity to do it but a small group of senators sabotaged the bill at the last minute," said rights activist Virgilio Barco.