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Same-sex marriage a key issue as Costa Ricans elect leader

If no candidate reaches 40% of the total vote, the top two finishers advance to an April 1 run-off.

Costa Ricans have voted in a presidential race shaken by an international court ruling saying the country should let same-sex couples get married.

Evangelical candidate Fabricio Alvarado recently vaulted into first place in opinion polls after he took a strong stance against gay marriage, which about two-thirds of Costa Ricans also oppose.

His closest rivals were agri-businessman Antonio Alvarez of the opposition National Liberation Party and Carlos Alvarado of the governing Citizens’ Action Party.

But the outlook was cloudy because none of the 13 candidates polled at more than 17% and surveys indicated that more than a third of likely voters were undecided.

If no candidate reaches 40% of the total vote, the top two finishers advance to an April 1 run-off.

Presidential candidate Antonio Alvarez Desanti talks with journalists after voting, outside a polling station in San Jose (Arnulfo Franco/AP)

“I see this as very divided,” said Paula Rodriguez, a psychologist who cast her vote in Moravia, on the north-eastern outskirts of the capital San Jose.

“I really think nobody knows what will happen.”

The January decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights came to play a central role in the campaign.

The court also ordered the country to grant same-sex couples such rights as the ability to inherit estates and adopt children.

Political analyst Francisco Barahona told The Associated Press that it came as an “external shock” for Costa Rica, a majority Roman Catholic nation with an increasing evangelical population.

Presidential candidate Fabricio Alvarado gives a thumbs-up as he is surrounded by the press at a polling station in San Jose (Arnulfo Franco/AP)

Mr Alvarado, a journalist, preacher and Christian singer, called the ruling a “sovereign violation” and saw his support balloon in the polls as socially conservative voters gravitated to that stance.

“Our message has already won. We are very happy and we hope we have convinced more undecideds,” he told local media.

Carlos Alvarado, who is not related to Fabricio Alvarado, was the only major candidate to openly back gay marriage and picked up some support recently from socially liberal voters.

Trained as a journalist, he got his start in politics as communications director for Citizens’ Action and also was labour minister under current President Luis Guillermo Solis.

Mr Alvarez, a two-time president of the Legislative Assembly and a Cabinet minister under the first presidency of Oscar Arias in 1986-1990, said he opposes gay marriage but backs recognising certain other rights for gay couples.

Voters were also selecting the 57 delegates that make up the Assembly.

Press Association

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