By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, April 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled that Veronica Botero could adopt her lesbian partner's two children, the couple were ecstatic because their six-year legal battle seemed to be over.
The ruling, handed down in 2014, was the first of its kind in the socially conservative Andean nation.
But more than seven months later, university professor Botero, and her spouse, Ana Leiderman, are still waiting for their adoption papers, blocked by a local judge who has autonomy.
The couple have become a symbol of the struggle gays and lesbians face in winning equal rights to heterosexuals over adoption and marriage in the predominantly Catholic country, where traditional views of the family unit hold sway.
Opponents of advancing gay rights, including Colombia's powerful inspector general, the Catholic Church and conservative lawmakers, view homosexual acts as a sin and say only a man and woman can form a family and have the right to adopt.
After marrying in Germany, Botero and Leiderman decided to start a family, agreeing that Leiderman would be the one to undergo artificial insemination.
"It's about two adults wanting to protect their children and give them the legal protection that comes with being recognized as a family under law. That's why we decided to file the lawsuit," Leiderman, 46, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The court said a gay couple is a family and that being gay isn't an impediment for adoption. But the court's decision has yet to be approved by a local judge, who has autonomy. It's still not certain we will receive the adoption papers."
Earlier this year a Constitutional Court ruling maintained limits on adoption for same-sex couples, saying that they should be allowed to adopt only when the child is the offspring of one of the partners.
A group of lawmakers opposed to this ruling has vowed to introduce a bill to give equal adoption rights to same-sex couples. But a poll this month suggests they will face a battle.
The survey by the Electoral Observation Mission, a Colombian non-governmental organization, 71 percent of Congress members are against granting gay couples full adoption rights, while 53 percent of those polled said they disapprove of gay marriage.
However, Colombia Diversa, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group, hopes to have a law passed on equal adoption rights for same-sex couples in the next five years.
"We'll take the fight again to the Constitutional Court," Mauricio Albarracin, head of Colombia Diversa, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Our main argument is that our rights, as enshrined in Colombia's 1991 constitution, are being violated. Current laws discriminate against same-sex couples and violate their human dignity," Albarracin, a lawyer, said.
Albarracin said notable gains had been made on gay rights in parts of Latin America with Argentina and Uruguay leading the way. Central America had seen the least progress, he added.
Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage in 2010, followed by Uruguay in 2013. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Mexico City since 2009.
In Colombia, court rulings from the late 1990s have brought gay couples closer to the same legal rights as married heterosexuals, such as equal rights to pensions and healthcare coverage, but full adoption and marriage rights remain elusive.
In 2011, the Constitutional Court ruled that same-sex unions were legal but Colombia's lawmakers have since failed to pass a law to regulate gay marriage.
This means a marriage license is issued at the discretion of a local notary and judge, and so far only 30 same-sex couples have been awarded one in Colombia, Albarracin said.
"There's still uncertainty about how to interpret the court's ruling on gay marriage," he said.
"While we have laws on gay rights, they aren't always clear, and there are sectors of our society that refuse to accept them."
(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Katie Nguyen and Tim Pearce)