NEWS ANALYSIS: One battle won in México City, but fight continues

Posted on 18 Mar 2010 at 11:07am
By Jesús Chaíréz | Contributing Writer chairezstudio@gmail.com

Same-sex marriages began this month in the Mexican capital city, but the Catholic Church and the country’s most conservative political party have not given up the fight


CATCHING THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION | A protest through the streets of México City in support of same-sex marriage stopped traffic with its colorful signs and flags and the drag queens who led the way. (Jesús Chaíréz/Special Contributor)

MÉXICO CITY, MÉXICO — As little as five years ago, LGBT people were leaving México because they feared for their safety. They were seeking — and being granted — political asylum in the United States because they were in danger of being beaten or even killed for being openly gay in macho, Catholic México.

But things are changing in México. Attitudes have become more tolerant. México City’s legislative assembly even voted in December to allow same sex-marriage and granted the right for same-sex couples to adopt.

That law took effect March 4. But the matter isn’t completely settled.

Government efforts to overturn law
México City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), was asked by President of México Felipe Calderón, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), to veto the marriage bill.

Calderón and his conservative PAN, along with the Catholic Church that has jumped in the middle of the marriage rumble, have said the new same-sex marriage law goes against nature and the Mexican Constitution.

But Ebrard signed the bill, saying that nothing in Mexico’s Constitution forbids same-sex marriage or adoption by gay couples.

The México Attorney General’s office filed an appeal with the Mexican Supreme Court in late January saying that the law moves away from the Mexican Constitution in protecting the family and children. But México City’s LGBT community, using Facebook and Twitter, rounded up supporters and staged a protest rally in front of the AG’s office.

Community leaders decried the AG’s appeal as unfair and called the AG himself homophobic.


STANDING ON THE CONSTITUTION | A protester at a recent México City march in support of same-sex marriage carries signs denouncing President Felipe Calderón’s opposition to the city’s gay marriage law. The sign on the left reminds the president that Mexico is a secular state of free people and that "The Bible is not the constitution." The other sign reads, "If Calderon offends me, the constitution defends me." (Jesús Chaíréz/Special Contributor)

Then five Mexican states — Jalisco, Tlaxcala, Guanajuato, Morelos and Sonora — got into the gay marriage fight, filing suit with the Mexican Supreme Court claiming that México City’s gay marriage law is unconstitutional and would require their states to acknowledge marriages of same-sex couples despite those states’ objections. The court rejected three of the states’ suits.

The northern state of Chihuahua did not appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the México City gay marriage law. But legislators in Chihuahua have already enacted a gay marriage ban in their state, and other states are expected to follow suit.

The Catholic Church’s opposition
Though Mexican law prohibits churches from being involved in politics, the Catholic Church has been busy fighting México City’s new law. The church regularly issues press releases denouncing the law and saying same-sex marriage goes against the dignity at the heart of the family.

The Catholic Church attacked Ebrard, not only on the issue of gay marriage, but safety issues and claims that the city’s infrastructure is falling apart.

The church even attacked Ebrard for setting up "Ecobici," a program providing eco-friendly bicycles for travel around the city.

Again, the city’s LGBT community fought back, using Facebook and Twitter to organize a second protest. Marching behind the banner "We March for the Defense of our Dignity and Citizens Rights," protesters started at the Angel of Independence in México City’s gay district and marched to the presidential residence, Los Piños.

Even in a city accustomed to weekly — and sometimes daily — protests by various groups, this second LGBT protest stopped traffic thanks to its brightly–colored drag queens leading the protests.

But federal police, who almost outnumbered the protesters, stopped the marchers before they could reach Los Piños. The police wore full body armor with helmets with face guards and carried shields, apparently afraid of a Stonewall-style rebellion.

There are no local conservative or religious groups protesting or marching in the streets against the same-sex marriage law. Strong opposition has come only from President Calderón and PAN and the Catholic Church.

Many gay marriage supporters believe that Calderón is using the fight over the new law to distract attention from his failed drug war that has claimed 15,000 lives over the past three years.

The law takes effect
Thirty-one same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses on March 4, the first day such licenses were available, but 19 couples completed all the required paperwork. A celebration followed the Benito Juarez monument at the Alameda Park — a fitting location considering Benito Juarez strongly advocated the separation of the Catholic Church and the government of México.

The first same-sex marriages took place March 11 in México City’s Old City Hall, across the street from the México City Cathedral. A lesbian couple were the first to exchange vows, and five couples were married there that day.

Future prospects
México City is an international city with basically the same liberal attitudes of other large cities, like New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam. And the Supreme Court is expected to rule in favor of the city’s same-sex marriage and adoption laws.

But the outcome is far from certain given México’s unpredictable politics. And even with the passage of marriage rights, México City’s LGBT community has many battles still to fight.

Officials with the Mexican Social Security Institute, México’s national heath care insurance system, have already said they cannot acknowledge same-sex couples because of the way the laws are currently written. And without the help of a national organization, like a Human Rights Campaign, to organize or coordinate the upcoming battles, prospects are bleak for the LGBT community in the rest of the country.

Jesús Chaíréz is a gay rights activist who formerly lived in Dallas. He moved to México City following his retirement in 2008.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 19, 2010.

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