The supreme court ruled last year that restricting marriage to heterosexuals was discriminatory but well-funded Christian groups are staging a fightback
After 19 years together, Inés Acevedo and Yolanda Torres finally tied the knot last September, at a collective wedding in the Mexican city of Querétaro. But their marriage was tragically short lived: less than a month later, Torres suffered a fatal heart attack.
Her death triggered a period of intense grief for Acevedo – but also the start of a bitter legal battle to have the couple’s legal rights respected. When Acevedo tried to obtain a certified copy of the marriage licence so she could process her pension, she was told the document didn’t exist.
Only after a complaint to state human rights officials did the document appear – though the registry director told Acevedes that she was receiving it “due to extraordinary circumstances”.
Same-sex couples have been able to marry in Mexico since 2009, when the country’s capital became the first city in Latin America to pass marriage equality laws. But in recent months, a well-organized and well-funded backlash has emerged, claiming credit for derailing a presidential proposal to entrench marriage equality in the country’s constitution.
Meanwhile, a string of cases like Acevedo’s suggest that rights for gay people are still treated as exceptions to be granted at the discretion of local officials.
And despite a string of court rulings in their favour, gay rights activists now fear that opponents of marriage equality could slow further reforms – or even roll back some of the progress they have achieved.
“We’re worried,” said María Fernanda López, a sociologist and LGBT activist in Querétaro. “They’re organized and have economic and political power. It’s something that social movements don’t have
Part of the problem is that marriage equality has never been enshrined in national law and remains subject to a patchwork of overlapping state and federal legislation: it is only explicitly legal in 10 of the country’s 31 states and Mexico City.
In 2015, the supreme court ruled that any law restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was “discriminatory”, meaning that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage can be successfully circumvented with a court injunction.
Surveys show the country split on same-sex marriage – a poll in the newspaper El Universal showed 49% opposed and 43% in favour – although there is still strong opposition to gay couples adopting children.
Opponents appear emboldened, however. A movement known as the National Front for the Family emerged earlier this year after President Enrique Peña Nieto introduced an initiative to legalise marriage equality nationwide, allow all couples to adopt children and to include positive portrayals of the LGBT community in educational materials.
The movement against marriage equality – which appears well funded and appears to have the support of politicians across the political spectrum – has since convened more than 100 marches nationwide under the slogan “Don’t mess with my kids”.
It has also started collecting signatures for a citizen initiative which would reform the constitution to define marriage as heterosexual.
Rodrigo Iván Cortés, spokesman for the Front and a politician with the Catholic-friendly National Action Party (Pan), said: “You can endure and tolerate many things occurring around you – such as corruption – but not when someone messes with the family.”
Observers say the president’s initiative was the pretext for a series of pro-Catholic organisations – sponsored by big-money backers – to mobilise.
“These groups came together to take advantage of a weakened president,” said a former member of a militant Catholic organisation, who asked that her name be withheld for fear of reprisal.
Peña Nieto’s initiative, she said, “awakened the beast”.
A couple kiss each other in front of the cathedral during a march in support of gay marriage, sexual and gender diversity in Mexico City on 11 September 2016.
A couple kiss each other during a march in support of gay marriage, sexual and gender diversity in Mexico City on 11 September 2016. Photograph: Carlos Jasso/Reuters
The campaign was supported by both evangelical Christians and the Catholic church, which regularly lobbies for policy changes on “social” issues – such as abortion bans – while staying silent on other issues such as drug war violence, which has claimed nearly 200,000 lives.
“Attacks against the family are much more serious than violence, more serious than narcotics trafficking and more serious than corruption,” said Father Hugo Valdemar, archdiocese of Mexico City spokesman.
The president’s plan on marriage equality eventually stalled in congress, where members of Peña Nieto’s own party argued that setting federal policy on same-sex marriages would interfere with states’ ability to set civil registry rules.
Other arguments were more extreme: Edith Martínez, who represents Encuentro Social, a party founded by evangelical Christians, said marriage equality would lead to people marrying “dolphins or laptops”.
The backlash has also been felt at state and local level. It is especially strong outside of the left-leaning capital – something Acevedo experienced first-hand in Querétaro, about 155 miles (250km) north of Mexico City.
She and Torres initially requested a marriage licence shortly after the supreme court issued its ruling in July 2015, but were at first rejected.
A second attempt was successful, but when the paperwork reached the state government registry, the marriage was declared “invalid” because they had failed to secure a court injunction.
The Querétaro state human rights defender subsequently intervened and found four similar situations in which local officials had ignored the supreme court ruling, prompting the registry to reverse its policy.
Acevedo is still struggling to claim the spousal benefits of her wife’s teacher’s pension because local officials claim she needs to have been married for at least a year to be awarded them. The time she and Torres lived together does not count, she was told, even though it would do in the case of a heterosexual couple.
“They’ve pulled this excuse out of their sleeve to deny me a pension,” she said.
Activists say that episodes like this underline the precarious nature of LGBT rights in Mexico. “The issue of marriage equality should be treated as an issue of human rights,” López said. “But it is often reduced to a question of political will.”
by David Agren in Querétaro
Source – The Guardian