Christian singer Fabricio Alvarado takes Costa Rica's first round of presidential votes

ReutersFabricio Alvarado Munoz is the front-runner for the presidency of Costa Rica

ReutersFabricio Alvarado Munoz is the front-runner for the presidency of Costa Rica

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

Following last month's decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Fabricio Alvarado, a 43-year-old journalist with a prominent career as a preacher and Christian singer, vaulted to 16.9 percent in a survey published January 31 by the University of Costa Rica's Center for Research in Political Sciences, or CIEP.

Fabricio Alvarado recently vaulted into the top in opinion polls after he openly opposed same-sex marriage, denouncing the Interamerican Court of Human Rights ruling calling on Costa Rica to give civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, which almost two-thirds Costa Ricans also stand against.

Christian singer Fabricio Alvarado Munoz has managed to take the lead in the first round of presidential votes in Costa Rica on February 4 and is set to face ruling-party contender Carlos Alvarado Quesada in a runoff in April.

With 94 percent of the ballots counted Monday, Fabricio Alvarado, an evangelical whose political stock soared after he came out strongly against same-sex marriage, had 24.9 percent of the vote. Despite the shared last name, the two men are unrelated.

Alvarado's close rival is Carlos Alvarado (no relation), a 38-year-old former labor minister from the ruling Citizens' Action Party who scored 22 percent of the vote.

His opponent Carlos Alvarado Quesada supports gay marriage, making the presidential contest effectively a referendum on the divisive issue.

If no one in the 13-candidate field tops 40 percent, the first two finishers will advance to an April 1 runoff.

Adrian Pignataro, a political scientist at the University of Costa Rica, said the country has seen a marked erosion in party loyalty and this election has exposed a social divide between secular and religious values.

In addition, the group said they were expressing their support for a secular state where true equality exists, at the same time acknowledging that there was still more to do to reach that goal. According to recent polls, between sixty and seventy percent of the population is opposed to homosexual "marriage".

With so many candidates, a runoff seemed likely heading into the election.

Alvarez, a two-time president of the Legislative Assembly and a Cabinet minister under the first presidency of Oscar Arias in 1986-1990, opposed gay marriage but backed recognition for certain other rights for gay couples.

"None of them really grabs my attention", said Berlioth Hidalgo, a 35-year-old cleaning worker who has not yet fixed on any candidate.

Some voters had other issues on their minds. "But I think people here are already living very tightly".

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

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