Gay Marriage Puts Mexico City At Center Of Debate
MEXICO CITY — Angela Alfarache and Ivonne Cervantes met at a party 16 years ago and have been a couple ever since, filling their lives with books and writing and friends. After their daughter, Constanza, was born six years ago, they became a family.
Mexican law never saw it that way. Only Constanza’s biological mother — the pair will not say which one gave birth to her because, as they explain, they are both her mothers — is her legal parent. The law does not recognize the other mother.
In a few weeks, that will change. A new Mexico City law goes into effect March 4 that will allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, propelling the city to the forefront of the global gay rights movement.
“We want society to change its chip that says there is only one kind of family,” said Ms. Alfarache.
But fierce opposition erupted almost as soon as the law was passed on Dec. 22. In his final homily of the year in Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera said, “Today the family is under attack in its essence by the equivalence of homosexual unions with marriage between a man and a woman.” Roman Catholic groups asked the conservative federal government to intervene.
President Felipe Calderón said the Constitution defined marriage as between a man and a woman, although legal experts disagree. His attorney general filed a challenge before the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violates a constitutional clause protecting the family.
Under its left-wing mayor and city assembly, Mexico City has stretched the nation’s limits in acknowledging just how much the conceptions and realities of family have changed here. The city legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, untangled its cumbersome divorce laws and recognized civil unions.
But while many families have been fractured by migration, teenage pregnancy, divorce and abandonment, most Mexicans still cherish the ideal of a nuclear family.
“The same word cannot have two different meanings,” said Mariana Gómez del Campo, the Mexico City leader of the president’s National Action Party, or PAN. “It will weaken the legal definition of marriage.”
More important, she said, is protecting children’s rights. “One of their rights is to have a family,” she said. “A child does not get to decide what kind of family it is.”
In an unscientific poll taken and cited by the party, just over half of the respondents disapproved of gay marriage and about three-quarters opposed adoption by same-sex couples.
But even if that accurately represents Mexican sentiments, the law’s backers in the city assembly as well as among gay men and lesbians argue that their vote was aimed at expanding rights, a decision that cannot be based on opinion polls or referendums.
“Politically, the federal government is declaring that the Constitution only protects heterosexual families,” said David Razú, the city legislator who proposed the new law. “It’s a government that discriminates against its own citizens.”
The federal government says that Mexico City’s 2007 civil unions law gives same-sex couples the rights they have been seeking. But in practice — when it comes to including a partner in public health insurance plans, applying for state bank loans or recognizing a parent — the law has not worked, said Judith Vázquez, a gay rights activist.
In positioning himself as a defiant social liberal, Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, is taking a political gamble. He wants to run for president in 2012, and his views may find little resonance outside the capital, where the Roman Catholic Church holds much greater sway.
“We are looking at the recognition of rights and liberties, and in this there is a big difference between conservatives and those of us with a liberal or different or advanced ideas of rights,” Mr. Ebrard told reporters in response to the federal government’s court challenge in January.
The city will not wait for the Supreme Court ruling, which could take as long as a year, Mr. Ebrard added. Once they marry, same-sex spouses will be able to adopt openly as a couple in Mexico City.
The city’s decisions — along with the election of two national presidents from the conservative PAN since 2000 — have emboldened the Catholic Church to speak out and even lobby politically in the past few years. Mexico has a long history of anticlericalism, going back to laws in the mid-19th century. Even after Mexico restored full rights to religious groups in 1992, the Catholic Church was at first careful not to be seen as involving itself directly in politics.
Elsewhere in Latin America there have been steps toward approving gay marriage. In Argentina, the debate over gay marriage is making its way through the courts, although the southernmost province, Tierra del Fuego, welcomed Latin America’s first gay wedding there on Dec. 29. Uruguay allows civil unions and is moving toward allowing same-sex couples to adopt. Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia all recognize some form of civil unions.
For the gay rights movement, Mexico City’s law was the result of 30 years of activism. Ms. Cervantes, 44, a fiction writer, and Ms. Alfarache, 50, an anthropologist who works on women’s rights issues, have been able to raise their daughter in the open-minded environment of the capital’s university-educated minority. Working-class couples or those outside the city face many more barriers, they say.
Several members of Ms. Cervantes’s family are conservative Catholics who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their uncomfortable acceptance of her family. “Once you know what scares you, it begins to break down what you believe in,” Ms. Cervantes said.
Even in their liberal enclave, the couple contend that they and their daughter should be assured of their rights.
“Our families, our doctors, the teachers — they all know that there are two mothers,” said Ms. Alfarache, nodding at Constanza. “But you can’t leave rights to people’s good will. We want the whole package, the rights — and the responsibilities.”