Victory for gay rights in Mexico's Catholic stronghold

Legalisation of same-sex marriages in capital is a first for Latin America

The global gay rights movement was yesterday celebrating the passage of a bill in the Mexico City legislature legalising gay marriage, making the huge and overwhelmingly Catholic megalopolis the first territory anywhere in Latin America to put same-sex couples on the same standing as heterosexuals.

The law, which is likely to be signed soon by the city's increasingly high-profile leftist Mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, was passed by a vote of 39 votes to 20 in the city assembly on Monday to loud chants from supporters in the galleries of "Yes, We could. Yes, we could" – words that will become "We do" for some couples early in the new year.

It was a victory not just for gay rights activists in Mexico and across Latin America but also for the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) which has controlled government of the sprawling Mexican capital since 1997. The bill was opposed by members of President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party (PAN), which holds power nationally. Party officials have already vowed to challenge the new city law in the Supreme Court.

As in many – though not all – parts of the world, calls for marriage rights for gays and lesbians have begun to resonate more loudly in Latin America. Civil unions, which fall some way short of outright marriage, have been available to same-sex couples in Mexico City for some years as they are in all of Uruguay, Ecuador and Colombia.

Debate on the issue is raging in Argentina meanwhile. Same-sex civil unions were approved in Buenos Aires a full seven years ago. Now, however, the country is awaiting a ruling from the national Supreme Court on the marriage of two men after a lower court judge declared that the government's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. The couple had planned to marry late last month before the wedding was blocked.

Mexico City, which passed its law in the face of fierce opposition not just from the top ranks of the Catholic Church, joins the seven countries and five US states that offer full marriage rights to gays.

Canada, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium permit gay marriage as well as Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire in the US. (New Hampshire's law comes into effect in 2010).

But while gay rights advocates around the world were toasting Mexico City, none could ignore the sobering counterpoint from another continent, Africa, and specifically Uganda where parliament seems poised to pass a law not only criminalising homosexuality but threatening the death penalty in certain circumstances, for instance if one of the parties is HIV-positive or is under 18 years of age.

A law conferring same-sex marriage rights was passed this month by Washington DC. The city's Mayor, Adrian Fenty, signed it into law last week. Otherwise, however, the year 2009 has been one mostly of disappointment for the gay rights movement in the US. Lawmakers in Maine signed gay marriage into law only to see it overturned by a popular ballot in November. And efforts to push gay marriage through the New York state legislature ended in failure.

For Mayor Ebrard signing the marriage law holds some risk. Regarded as a strong steward of the capital – the population of greater Mexico City exceeds 21 million – he may be positioning himself to run for the Mexican presidency in three years' time. While recent polls showed that residents of the capital were evenly split over gay marriage, the rest of the country remains far more socially conservative and will look askance at the law.

For same-sex couples who witnessed the vote on Monday, it was a moment of pure celebration, however. "This is wonderful," commented Judith Vasquez, a gay rights activist. "Gay couples have effectively been together for years, decades, centuries. But now it is our right." The vote changed the definition of marriage in the city's civil code from being between a man and a woman to the "free uniting of two people".

"For centuries, unjust laws prohibited marriage between whites and blacks or Europeans and [indigenous] Indians," declared PRD representative Victor Romo who voted for the law. "Today all those barriers have come down."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food