Progress Continues in Mexico's Gay Rights Movement

October 20, 2016

Latin America has long been a region strongly influenced by the Catholic Church and macho attitudes and because of these long standing traditions, intolerance and even violence against sexual diversity is common. However, despite obstacles, progress of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) movements has grown significantly in recent years.  Growth in social media, democratization, increased attention for human rights, and globalization all play pivotal roles in bringing the LGBT rights movement to the forefront. While Mexicans are still deep in the debate over same sex marriage, other Latin American countries have moved forward with new LGBT laws. In 2010, Argentina legalized same sex marriage and three years later Brazil and Uruguay followed. The LGBT travel website Spartacus World listed these three nations on their top 30 list of gay-friendly nations, the only nations in Latin America to make the list. In Colombia and Ecuador, same sex civil unions are now permitted and in Argentina transgendered individuals can change the gender listed on their birth certificate. The diversity of opinions throughout Mexico continues to shift, yet Mexico City has made their position clear.

In 2009, Mexico City not only legalized same sex marriage, but also legalized adoption by same sex couples, becoming the first jurisdiction in Latin American to do so. While the liberal capital has changed its laws, most of Mexico has taken no action to change. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that marriages registered in Mexico City must be recognized throughout Mexico because of the refusal by many states to perform the ceremonies. Since the ruling, five out of Mexico’s 31 states have performed same-sex marriages.

Recent efforts of the LGBT movement have focused on Guadalajara, the third most populated city in Mexico. Located in the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is known for being the birthplace of tequila and the Mexican rodeo, but is also known for being a very conservative city. Despite this reputation, Guadalajara has dozens of gay bars and a well-organized and active LGBT community. In October of 2013 the state of Jalisco Congress voted to legalize civil unions. While adoptions and marriages are not legal, civil unions allow for inheritance rights and social security benefits within the couple. Opposing these movements and new laws is the right wing political party, the National Action Party or PAN. Gildardo Guerrero Torres, the congressman leading the PAN movement, spoke out against the bill saying it was, “an agenda pushed by the international gay lobby [that would end up] creating a cheap version of marriage by another name […] We respect people's sexual differences, but we believe that the institution of marriage should be preserved between a man and a woman.” PAN has also found support with Bishop Leopoldo Gonzalez of the archdiocese of Guadalajara who recently said: “the position of the Church is never going to change. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Anything else cannot be called marriage.” Despite the strong opposition, public opinion has shifted to support the LGBT community.

A July 2013 report found that 52% of Mexicans support same sex marriage, up 13% from December 2012. The same report also found that 89% of Mexicans believe that homosexuals should be treated equally. As support grows quickly for the LGBT community, PAN and the Catholic Church continue to lose support. The latest government census reported the Catholic population fell from 88% to 83.9% between 2000 and 2010. PAN had previously governed Mexico in 2000 but most recently came in third in the 2012 presidential election. As public opinion has shifted in favor of same sex marriage, battles have also been won in local registry offices.

In December 2013, Zaira de la O and Martha Sandoval Blanco became the first same sex couple to marry in Jalisco after registering in Mexico City. The two were married in the Guadalajara civil registry office under threat of right-wing groups and emerged draped in rainbow flags to chants of “Yes We Could” from supporters. The marriage officially ended a nine-month battle by the couple after the registry office refused to marry them. After hearing the case, a federal judge ruled with the couple and granted an injunction forcing the registrar to perform the marriage. The judge cited a 2001 amendment to the Mexican constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual preference. Newlywed de la O said of her wedding, “This is a wave. Soon it will be unstoppable. All we're asking for is equal rights and this is going to happen in all of Mexico. Jalisco was considered one of the states where it would be most difficult to achieve this - well, now we've done it. This should inspire all the couples in other states who are fighting for equality.” So far, no formal changes have been made to Jalisco’s laws.

While Mexico has not made as much progress as other Latin American countries such as Argentina and Uruguay, significant steps have been made in recent years to support the LGBT community. Public opinion is shifting in favor of same sex marriage rapidly and Mexico City has set a strong example for the rest of the country, yet the Catholic Church and the PAN continue to speak out against the movement. As in most modern countries, Mexico now faces a long and complicated battle fueled by a younger generation and the growing support for the LGBT community.

About Author(s)

Kelcey Hadden-Leggett
Kelcey Hadden-Leggett is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a degree in Spanish, a Certificate in Latin American Studies, and a related area Certificate in Portuguese. She recently completed the Pitt in Ecuador program in the Amazon.