On Monday, Mexico City’s legislators approved a bill granting same-sex marriage by a vote of 39-20 and five abstentions, putting Mexico City on course to be the first place in Latin America to legalize gay marriage.
Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard of the Democratic Revolution party, is thought to support the bill, so his signature seems likely. However, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, of the conservative National Action party, has said he will launch a legal challenge if the bill is signed. Several prominent Roman Catholic figures have also opposed the legislation, and have taken special exception to the fact that the bill will also grant gay couples the right to adopt.
“The Free Uniting of Two People”
With crowds outside reportedly cheering “Yes we could!” during the three hour debate (which seems to echo Obama’s “Yes We Can” slogan), Mexico City’s legislature voted to amend the definition of marriage present in the city’s civil code.
What does the bill change? Previously, only marriage between “one man and one woman” had been allowed, but this new amendment expands the definition of marriage to make same-sex marriage possible so long as the two parties seeking a marriage license meet all the other standards required of them (that they are both of legal age, for instance). The definition now reads that marriage is for “the free uniting of two people”.
By amending the civil code, Mexico City’s legislature also granted many other rights to gay couples that come with having access to the legal definition of “marriage”. These include the right to adopt children, the ability to apply for joint loans, to inherit spousal benefits and to also share joint spousal insurance policies. These were all things that were denied gay couples under Mexico City’s civil union law that was passed in 2007.
However, the law will only effect Mexico City itself and so is limited in this respect. Still, this change will have a sizable impact given the size of Mexico City’s population, especially for Mexico City’s gay community, which has grown in recent years as citizens flock to what they consider to be one of Mexico’s most liberal areas.
The law is strongly opposed by members of the Roman Catholic Church. The LA Times reports:
“Also opposed was the Roman Catholic Church, which labeled the proposal immoral, saying marriage must hold the promise of procreation. Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera said the law created the “perverse possibility” that “innocent children” would be adopted by gay couples.”
Armando Martinez Gomez, president of the College of Catholic Attorneys, warned that the bill may have unintended consequences:
“Martinez and other opponents had sought a citywide referendum on the issue, similar to the one California held last year, instead of a vote in the legislature. He said surveys taken by his organization showed overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage. (Another survey published last week by the Reforma newspaper showed opinion more evenly divided.)
“He also predicted a backlash against gays. ‘There will be repercussions, the unleashing of homophobia. Ours is not a very tolerant society.’“
However, many have been more optimistic about the same-sex marriage law:
“‘For centuries, unfair laws prohibited marriage between whites and blacks, between Europeans and Indians,’ legislator Romo, of the PRD, said. ‘Today, all the barriers have disappeared.’”
While this is undoubtedly a positive step for gay rights, Armando Martinez Gomez makes one important point when he cites that there could be repercussions if this bill does become law.
In the US we have seen many states actively legislate against gay marriage following a handful of states passing gay marriage laws. Indeed, a law maker in New Mexico has this week announced that he has filed legislation that would amend the New Mexico Constitution to define marriage as being only for heterosexuals. No doubt this will be a ballot initiative that will have some prominence in 2010.
A similar move to tighten up legislation in Mexico so as to prevent gay marriage in other states may now occur, especially considering the way that other legislators in Mexico have reacted to Mexico City’s law making decisions in the past, something the Guardian notes:
“The assembly has made several decisions that have been unpopular elsewhere in the deeply Roman Catholic country, including legalising abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“That sparked a backlash, with the majority of Mexico’s other 32 states enacting legislation declaring that life begins at conception.“
Unintentionally, Mexico City’s recognition of same-sex marriage may have a similar, chilling effect on forward momentum. All that considered though, and Mexico City’s gay marriage law still stands as a strong statement of equality, and one that is somewhat unprecedented.
Earlier in the year, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex adoptions, fighting against quite a bit of resistance and controversy to do so.
In Buenos Aires last month, a regional district judge ruled that two men should have the right to marry in Argentina’s capital, but, on the eve of their wedding, which would have been the first same-sex marriage in Latin America, another judge barred the union due to concerns over the legitimacy of the first ruling. The issue will now be heard by Argentina’s Supreme Court.
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Esparta.