By Kary Vannice
How is it that in a country notorious for its “machismo,” same-sex couples enjoy more rights, and have for a longer time, in Mexico than they do in the United States, a country labeled “the land of the free”?
Well, while its neighbor to the north has lagged behind when it comes to civil rights, Mexico stands out as being quite progressive in its egalitarian legislation, where same-sex marriage and LGBT rights are concerned.
Even before countries like France, England and the United States enacted country-wide same-sex marriage, Mexico City become the first jurisdiction in Latin America to legally recognize the union of same-sex couples, all the way back in 2009.
It wasn’t until 2013 that England and France recognized same-sex civil unions. And all 50 of the United States didn’t until 2015.
It seems almost paradoxical that in a country where an overwhelming majority of the population subscribes to a religion that condemns homosexuality, Mexico is ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the world.
Unlike other countries where law makers’ religious views play heavily into legislation, Mexico has a very staunch separation of church and state policy. It is unacceptable to advocate legislation based on one’s religious views. Even the most publicly outspoken religious politicians temper their religious views and agendas when debating and scripting the law.
This has forced law makers to consider this controversial issue from a much more legalistic view, rather than a religious one. And, whereas there is no constitutional protection based on sexual orientation in the United States, there is in Mexico.
As far back as 2003 the Mexican Chamber of Deputies passed an anti-discrimination law that designated sexual orientation as a protected category. Ironically, this took place when the rightest Catholic PAN party was in power.
By court order, all states in Mexico must either allow same-sex marriage to be performed within the state or recognize the same-sex union of a couple married in another state. This does not mean, however, that all 31 states “allow” same-sex couples to get married within their borders. Several states have banned same-sex marriage.
In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that that such bans were unconstitutional, citing the first article of the Mexican Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on “sexual preferences.”
What does this mean for a same-sex couple wanting to wed within the state? It means they must get a judge to issue a court order before a civil service can be performed, forcing the couple to enter the legal system and wait.
One couple in the state of Sonora reported to the news outlet Fronteras that it took almost a year for them to get a judge’s approval. It was a long and costly process. Fortunately, they had free legal help, but most couples do not.
Once wed, however, the union afforded the couple all spousal rights that heterosexual couples are allowed, including alimony, inheritance rights, and coverage of a spouse by the federal social security system.
Pushing the boundaries even farther, in 2018 a Mexican couple married in the United States won the right to have their marriage legally recognized in Mexico, opening the door for all Mexican citizens around the world to also have their same-sex civil unions recognized, regardless of where the ceremony was performed.
All this is not to say that the rights currently enjoyed by same-sex couples in Mexico are here to stay. Late last year, a bill was proposed to change the Law of Religious Associations and Public Worship that would remove the language that legally separates church and state here in Mexico. The current administration opposes this bill, but if it were to pass, it could mean the repeal of same-sex marriage legislation. So, for now, members of the LGBT community will continue to fight to maintain their equal rights.