Presidential candidate Johnny Araya and his wife, Sandra León,
Presidential candidate Johnny Araya and his wife, Sandra León.  Photo: La Nacion

The times they are a-changin’ and nowhere more than in elections where Presidential nominees in this conservative Catholic country were married to one woman all their lives, much like party reluctance to field a divorced candidate in the United States in the 1950s when Adlai Stevenson was unsupported by some fellow Democrats because he was divorced.

One of the first to break the mold in Costa Rica was the second term of ex-President Oscar Arias (2006-10) whose divorce came after his first term, and his remarriage was a quiet affair during his second. Now, front runners have checkered matrimonial records.

Front runner Johnny Araya, for example, has been married five times, pointed out La Nacion’s Sunday edition. Yet we have heard no rumblings from within his National Liberation party nor the opposition. However, unlike in United States, the press allows politicians their privacy and even his last marriage, in July, passed nearly unnoted. As the local saying goes, “no hay quinto malo” (there isn’t a fifth bad one), we suppose.

Then there is Rodolfo Piza, Social Christian Unity’ choice as standard bearer. He has been wed twice. The above two are the only legally wed candidates — Luis Guillermo Solis, of Citizen Action Party and Jose Maria Villalta of  Frente Amplio (Broad Front) have marriages in all but the legal sense.

ML Otto Guevara and his girlfriend,  Ileana Alfaro.
ML Otto Guevara and his girlfriend, Ileana Alfaro.  Photo: La Nacion

Libertarian Otto Guevara is divorced but in a serious relationship. If you think that Solis and Villalta are in the minority, think again–La  Nacion noted that 800,000 Ticos live in union libre — free union — without benefit of clergy while the rest of the marrieds only number 1.1 million — not far ahead in numbers.

It is clear that Costa Ricans tend to have a healthy curiosity about how their candidates stand on the issues and less about prying into their bedrooms, something the U.S. press and voters could profitably emulate. And if the nation decides to elect another woman Chief Executive in the future, odds are that she could be head of a one-parent family — the number of these has increased from 23% to 35% in the past dozen years.

President Laura Chinchilla is twice married as was Arias’s predecessor Abel Pacheco (2002-06). La Nacion pointed out that in the 1980s and ’90s, once-married was definitely the fashion — Oscar Arias’s first election in 1986 was when he was married (once), as were Rafael Angel Calderon in 1990, Jose Maria Figueres in 1994 and Miguel Angel Rodriguez in 1998.

“Without a doubt this is a reflection of a Costa Rican society that is increasingly heterogeneous,” Villalta told La Nacion, “and Costa Rican families are diverse. Because of this, legislation should respect this diversity.” To back his viewpoint, the paper pointed out that in 2001 there was one divorce for every three marriages. In 2012, it was a divorce for every two.

Araya and Piza are in civil unions — 15 years ago, only 4 in every 10 marriages were not in a church — now that number is 7 in 10. Piza observed to the paper, “I admire those who have only had one marriage. Others of us have had to find a second chance.

“I’m in a second marriage,” he continued, a trifle wistfully, “I’m a Catholic and conscious that I can’t partake communion in my condition as a divorcee.” The Church remains firm in its opposition to divorce but, in its pronouncement on the elections, diplomatically cautioned voters not to judge others.

Of the five candidates with the best possibilities of winning in February, only Araya and Piza plan to incorporate their mates in governmental functions as First Lady, reported the paper. The other three noted that the Constitution does not have any legal position of First Lady or First Mate.

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