By Kary Vannice
For the most part, people in developed countries still see Mexico as a third-world or developing country. In most parts of the world, Mexico has a reputation for being behind the curve when it comes to business and technology and behind the times when it comes to modern cultural mores.
Even for those of us who choose to live here in Mexico, we, too, often fall into the trap of thinking that Mexico lags far behind our countries of origin, where we like to think morality and equality are more favored. Which is why you might be surprised to learn that Mexico, in general, is quite progressive when it comes to the subject of marriage.
In 2019, the Mexican Senate issued a total ban on underage marriage without parental consent, meaning that no person under the age of 18 could marry without permission. Before that, the legal age for marriage was 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Now, no person younger than that can marry, even with parental consent.
If you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound progressive at all!” or “Why did it take Mexico so long to take action to protect underage girls and boys?”, consider that Massachusetts, in the United States, has a minimum marriage age with parental consent of 14 years old for boys and 12 years old for girls. In New Hampshire, it’s 14 for males and 13 for females, and both Mississippi and California have no minimum age at all, as long as there is parental consent.
Now, consider that Mexico City also became one of the first jurisdictions to legalize same-sex marriage, all the way back in 2009. When looking at a global same-sex marriage legalization timeline, you’ll find this legislation sandwiched right between Norway and Sweden, two countries that are arguably considered to be among the most progressive in the world. In North America, Canada led the way back in 2005, with its legislation of the Civil Marriage Act. And the United States lagged far behind both. It was not until 2015 that the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states. Same-sex unions in Mexico also enjoy all of the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
Religious vs. Civil Unions
Interestingly, in a country where 72% of residents identify as Catholic, and only about 15% identify as having no religious affiliation at all, only civil ceremonies are recognized as legal in Mexico. Religious weddings are seen as symbolic only and are not recognized by law. Most couples wishing to marry in the church have a civil service performed at a local municipality before they tie the knot at the church.
Divorce has been legal in Mexico for over a century. In contrast, Italy didn’t legalize divorce until 1977. It took Ireland two more decades, until 1997. And Chile even more recently legalized divorce in 2004.
Just a few years after that, in 2008, Mexico City approved unilateral divorce (meaning one spouse could file for divorce without the consent of the other), and other states in Mexico quickly followed suit. Today there are three types of divorce in Mexico, and either spouse can legally file for divorce.
Mexico, unlike many other countries, has kept the legalities of civil unions largely on the side of civil government and kept it out of the realm of religious wedlock, which is one of the main reasons why they have always been ahead of the curve compared to other predominantly Catholic countries.
You do not have to be a resident to be legally married in Mexico. Many foreigners wed each year in Mexico. Prenuptial agreements are legal and upheld by law in Mexico. In the future, you can expect Mexico to be at or near the leading edge when it comes to legal rights around marriage.