Move makes Mexican capital first in Latin America to grant marriage to gays; conservatives want referendum
MEXICO CITY — Mexico City lawmakers on Monday, Dec. 21, became the first in Latin America to legalize gay marriage.
City legislators passed the bill 39-20 on Monday with five lawmakers absent. Although the initial bill included language prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting, immediately after it passed the lawmakers began debate on removing that language and quickly voted to do so.
The bill calls for changing the definition of marriage in the city’s civic code. Marriage is currently defined as the union of a man and a woman. The new definition will be "the free uniting of two people."
The change would allow same-sex couples to adopt children, apply for bank loans together, inherit wealth and be included in the insurance policies of their spouse, rights they were denied under civil unions allowed in the city.
"We are so happy,"’ said Temistocles Villanueva, a 23-year-old film student who celebrated by passionately kissing his boyfriend outside the city’s assembly.
Leftist Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard is widely expected to sign the decision into law, although there’s been no definite word yet on when.
But former Dallasite JesÃºs ChaÃrÃ©z, who now lives in Mexico City, said the National Action Party (PAN) has vowed to fight the new law in the courts. He noted that Mexican President Felipe Calderon is a member of PAN.
"And of course," Chairez added, "the Roman Catholic Church is not happy either. So the novela continues."
ChaÃrÃ©z said the city’s LGBT community is "very excited" about the measure’s passage, "much more excited than when civil unions passed a couple of years ago."
"Everyone is talking about it. Even my elderly landlady said she was happy for me," he said. "I have not heard anything negative yet. But maybe that’s because people know where I stand on the issue."
ChaÃrÃ©z moved to Mexico City last year after retiring, and at the time, he said, "people thought I was crazy. I heard a lot of comments about how Mexico is so homophobic and macho and not a safe place for a gay person.
"But look at us now! Mexico City is the first Latin American [government] to legalize same-sex marriage — which is a step ahead of Texas,"
ChaÃrÃ©z said. "This is like an early Christmas present, and it’s a great way to close out the decade, too. Though I do miss Dallas, I love living in a progressive city that respects its GLBT community."
ChaÃrÃ©z said he was curious, however, about the people from Mexico who had sought or are seeking political asylum in the United States on the claim that Mexico is homophobic and dangerous to LGBT people. "Has this avenue of seeking asylum and the right to stay in the U.S.A. now closed to them?" he asked.
City lawmaker Victor Romo, a member of the mayor’s leftist party, said the vote created a historic day.
"For centuries unjust laws banned marriage between blacks and whites or Indians and Europeans," he said. "Today all barriers have disappeared."
But more conservative forces in the city had a different view.
Armando Martinez Gomez, president of the College of Catholic Attorneys, told the Los Angeles Times that lawmakers had "given Mexicans a very bitter Christmas. They have eliminated the word ‘father’ and ‘mother.’"
Martinez and other opponents had sought a citywide referendum on the issue instead of a vote in the legislature, according to the Times. Martinez has said surveys taken by his organization showed overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage, although another survey published last week by the Reforma newspaper showed opinion more evenly divided, the Times reported.
Martinez also told the Los Angeles newspaper he expects to see a backlash against the city’s LGBT community.
"There will be repercussions, the unleashing of homophobia. Ours is not a very tolerant society," he told the Times.
Mexico City already had a law in place that allowed same-sex couples to register as partners, similar to a civil union, and thus access a limited number of services and benefits. Only 680 couples have done so since the law took effect in 2007, the Times noted.
U.K. newspaper The Guardian noted that Mexico City is, in general, much more tolerant of diversity than other areas of the country. But Coahuila, a Mexican state on the border with Texas, in January 2007 adopted a law giving same-sex couples access to civil unions.
Marta Lagos, director of the Chile-based polling agency Latinobarometro, told The Guardian that in her agency’s 15 years, tolerance toward gays and lesbians has been the one area in which they have seen the most change.
"The vast majority — 70 percent — of the Latin American population tolerates homosexuals. Fifteen years ago it was the complete opposite," Lagos said.
Such tolerance, she said, is more visible in capital cities such as Mexico City, Bogata, Columbia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Guardian notes that Buenos Aires legalized same-sex civil unions in 2002, but conflicting judicial rulings recently stymied same-sex marriages there.
Several other Argentine cities, as well as Mexican and Brazilian states, also permit same-sex unions. Uruguay has become the first Latin American country to recognize same-sex unions and permit adoption by gay couples.
Colombia has granted social security rights to gay couples, and Venezuela is considering same-sex civil unions.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2009.