After gaining independence, it remained a crime until the liberal presidency of Tomás Guardia.

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The referendum was supposed to be held on 5 December 2010.

The "recurso de amparo" (appeal) was presented by lawyer Quirós Salazar, alleging that the referendum violates the rights and freedoms of individuals.

While certain politicians, such as President Óscar Arias, have expressed some support for LGBT rights, Costa Ricans tend to be socially conservative when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity issues, in large part due to the strong influences of the Roman Catholic Church and cultural traditions about machismo.

While homosexuality was technically legal, police harassment and raids of LGBT people and private establishments were formerly commonplace.

The petition for referendum has been organized by the Observatorio de la Familia, a religious conservative group seeking to stop legislation that promotes civil unions for same-sex couples.

On 1 July 2013, the Legislative Assembly passed legislation that grants benefits of domestic partnerships "without discrimination contrary to human dignity".

Since 1998, "sexual option" (Article 48 of the Costa Rican General Law 7771) is one of the categories in which discrimination is generally prohibited in areas such as employment. Costa Rican General Law 7771 – Discrimination Who ever applies, arranges or practices discriminatory measures because of race, nationality, gender, age, political, religious or sexual option, social position, economic situation, marital status or by any suffering of health or disease, will be sanctioned with penalty of twenty to sixty days fines.

The judge will be able to impose, in addition, the disqualifying penalty that corresponds, of fifteen to sixty days.

He also informed airlines that if they sold tickets to women travelling alone, or appearing likely to attend the meeting, they would be required to provide for the suspected lesbians' immediate return.