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
MÃ‰XICO CITY, MÃ‰XICO — As little as five years ago, LGBT people were leaving MÃ©xico 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 MÃ©xico.
But things are changing in MÃ©xico. Attitudes have become more tolerant. MÃ©xico 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
MÃ©xico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), was asked by President of MÃ©xico Felipe CalderÃ³n, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), to veto the marriage bill.
CalderÃ³n 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 MÃ©xico 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 MÃ©xico 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.
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 MÃ©xico 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 MÃ©xico 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 MÃ©xico 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 MÃ©xico City’s gay district and marched to the presidential residence, Los PiÃ±os.
Even in a city accustomed to weekly — and sometimes daily — protests by various groups, this second LGBT protest stopped traffic thanks to its brightlyâ€“colored drag queens leading the protests.
But federal police, who almost outnumbered the protesters, stopped the marchers before they could reach Los PiÃ±os. 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 CalderÃ³n and PAN and the Catholic Church.
Many gay marriage supporters believe that CalderÃ³n 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 MÃ©xico.
The first same-sex marriages took place March 11 in MÃ©xico City’s Old City Hall, across the street from the MÃ©xico City Cathedral. A lesbian couple were the first to exchange vows, and five couples were married there that day.
MÃ©xico 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 MÃ©xico’s unpredictable politics. And even with the passage of marriage rights, MÃ©xico City’s LGBT community has many battles still to fight.
Officials with the Mexican Social Security Institute, MÃ©xico’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.
JesÃºs ChaÃrÃ©z is a gay rights activist who formerly lived in Dallas. He moved to MÃ©xico City following his retirement in 2008.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 19, 2010.