SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Costa Ricans vote Sunday in a presidential runoff between the ruling party's candidate and an evangelical pastor who has capitalized on the backlash against talk of legalizing same-sex marriage in the Central American country.
Carlos Alvarado of the incumbent Citizen Action Party has garnered the support of Costa Ricans who see rival Fabricio Alvarado's discourse as homophobic. The latter went from also-ran to leading candidate after he came out strongly against same-sex marriage in the face of international pressure for Costa Rica to allow gays to wed.
Recent polling showed the candidates — who are not related despite sharing the same last name — in a statistical tie heading into the vote. They were the top vote-getters in a first round election in early February.
The gay marriage question became the race's focal point after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said in January that Costa Rica should allow same-sex marriage.
Political scientist and analyst Francisco Barahona said Fabricio Alvarado's message of restoration - he heads the National Restoration party - uses a loaded term that suggests he wants to put Costa Rica's institutions in line with his brand of religious fundamentalism.
"You can't interpret that 'restore' in a neutral way but rather as a way to make the state over in the image of what the religious sectors that support the candidate want," Barahona said.
Both candidates have opted for economic advisers who take a conservative approach, maintaining the free market and reducing the size of government.
Rodrigo Lopez, 45, said Fabricio Alvarado would be his choice because Costa Rica should maintain its traditional values and he's tired of the ruling party's corruption.
Maria Rodriguez, 32, said she supports Carlos Alvarado because she rejects his rival's homophobic discourse and does not believe he is qualified to be president.