This September, the streets of Mexico filled with protesters, chanting L.G.B.T.-related slogans. However, contrary to the prevailing global trend, they were not chanting for equality; they were protesting President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent proposal to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. On the 24th, as many as 215,000 protesters united in the capital of Mexico City in what was one of the largest demonstrations in recent years. These events, supported by the country’s Catholic institutions and the Pope himself, have come as a hard shock to a city that has long been seen as a safe haven for L.G.B.T.-identifying people.

Despite Latin America’s history of conservative politics and religion, Mexico has emerged as one of the region’s leaders in liberal social policy. It has eased punishment for marijuana possession, and abortion is now legal in the capital. However, its legalization of same-sex marriage has demonstrated the deep social divide that still exists in the country. While the scene is brightening for Mexico’s L.G.B.T. population, the pro-equality policy movement—led by the president—must first reckon with a vocal opposition movement, headed by the Catholic Church.

Peña and the Pope

President Enrique Peña Nieto is the first Mexican president to openly support same-sex marriage, and has been robustly engaged in a fight for L.G.B.T. rights since 2009, when Mexico City became the first Latin American city to legalize same-sex civil unions. In solidarity with Mexico’s L.G.B.T. community since then, Peña Nieto has appeared prominently at commemorations like the International Day Against Homophobia, signed initiatives to constitutionally protect L.G.B.T. rights, promised to work against discrimination and homophobia, and publicly posted pictures of his presidential residence illuminated in rainbow-colored lights. In May, the president even overlaid the rainbow flag onto his Twitter profile picture.

However, Peña Nieto’s support for the L.G.B.T. cause is not universally acclaimed. His party suffered losses this June in midterm governorship elections, some say precisely because of Peña Nieto’s stance on L.G.B.T. rights issues (in addition to a variety of other controversies surrounding his presidency). As Nieto has pushed marriage equality, many members of his largely socially-conservative Institutional Revolutionary Party have abandoned him, effectively putting Nieto’s L.G.B.T. rights agenda on hold. Exacerbating this is the fact that a substantial part of Mexico’s population is socially conservative, in part due to historical ties to the Catholic Church, which continues to play a prominent role in Mexican culture. While the Catholic Church’s stance on same-sex marriage has somewhat varied from country to country, in Mexico it is one of the most outspoken opponents of the measure. A number of archbishops have publicly decried gay marriage in the country. Archbishop Noverto Rivera Carrera, editorial contributor to a Catholic weekly called Desde la Fe (From the Faith), has received criticism for his harsh portrayal of same-sex couples, urging them to “abstain from having sex” and “stay in chastity.” In a recent editorial, he vulgarly described the superiority of heterosexual sex above homosexual sex, and has called Peña Nieto’s bill to nationally legalize same-sex marriage a “terrible stab in the back.”

Cardinal Rivera Carrera’s sentiments may be blunt, but they aren’t far out of line with the Pope’s stance on gay marriage. Despite having said in 2013 that L.G.B.T. people should not be “marginalized,” Pope Francis expressed a different opinion in April when he said there were “no grounds” for comparing same-sex marriages with “traditional marriages.” In August, he decried acceptance of the transgendered community: “today in schools, they are teaching this to children—to children!—that everyone can choose their own gender.” When Italy was engaged in its own debate over gay marriage, the Pope refused to get involved, saying that the “Pope does not get mixed up in Italian politics.” However, this principle does not appear to hold for Mexican politics: in September, the Pope expressed support for the anti-same-sex marriage protestors “in favor of family and life, which in these times require special pastoral and cultural attention around the world.”

It was in response to this developing situation that tens of thousands of protesters congregated in Mexico City on September 24th to “defend their families and children.” Organized by Catholic groups and the National Front for the Family, protesters dressed in white and carried white balloons, demanding the right to control sex education in public schools, presumably to prevent students’ exposure to questions of gender identity and nontraditional marriage.

According to the protesters, it is not same-sex marriage that is objectionable: “we are not against anybody’s [sexual] identity,” an evangelical pastor participating in the protests claimed. “What we are against is the government imposition […] of trying to impose gender ideology in education.” But other quotes from protesters and even movement organizers suggest a movement that is less innocuous. The National Front for the Family has called L.G.B.T. individuals “unstable people,” and Church officials say their identities go “against nature”. Violence against queer Mexicans is still an issue, says the Citizen Commission against Homophobic Crimes, citing the 26 murders of L.G.B.T. individuals in Mexico in 2016.

To Liberty and Beyond

In response to the massive anti-gay protests, a small group—possibly 200 individuals— gathered to counter-protest discrimination and hatred against the L.G.B.T. community, separated from the main crowd by police barricades. “Just because they are the majority, doesn’t mean they can take rights away from minorities. That would lead us to a dark period, to fundamentalism,” said one of the activists to L.G.B.T.Q. Nation. To broadcast their solidarity with L.G.B.T. rights advocates, the group lit up the Angel de la Independencia monument—located in one of Mexico City’s main gay neighborhoods—in bright pink.

Temistocles Villaneuva, National Secretary for Sexual Diversity with the progressive M.O.R.E.N.A. party, has been one of the most vocal proponents for same-sex marriage equality during the conflict. He reprimanded Cardinal Rivera Carrera for his statements about Mexico’s L.G.B.T. community, saying the cardinal “violates the secular state because he’s messing into legal issues, he promotes discrimination and violence, and he gives an idea that homosexuals are living in sin […] And he bases this campaign in archaic arguments that do not take into account science or human rights.” Villanueva says that as many as 60 percent of Mexicans favor same-sex marriage—a far cry from the socially conservative image of Mexico that anti-L.G.B.T. leaders promote. But the real question at hand is one of social equality, as well as political equality: L.G.B.T.-identifying people need the legitimacy of a marriage certificate, but beyond that, they also need social legitimacy. “Legally, the question is basically settled, but there’s an implementation problem and that is what has brought this to a broader conflict,” writes Lester Feder, who covers L.G.B.T. issues for Buzzfeed.

Same-sex marriage was legalized by the Mexican Supreme Court in 2015, and in June the Court reaffirmed the ruling by saying every civil state authority should “recognize marriage as human right and that people can enter into marriage without any kind of discrimination.” However, the ruling is not compulsory for all states, and therefore its results have been somewhat disappointing. As of today, nine of the thirty-one Mexican states have followed with their own legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but same-sex couples have been barred from marriage in other parts of the country.

Since May, L.G.B.T. rights activists have commended the progress made by Peña Nieto in addressing the issue of marriage equality, but there is clearly still much to be done. Many protesters seem to have recognized the political battle against marriage equality is largely lost, and have reverted to subtler forms of anti-L.G.B.T. aggression. Equality advocates continue to push the Mexican president to take real action to solve the problems underlying the movements that filled Mexico this September: discrimination and narrow-mindedness. “There’s much more to do in order to fight homophobia in Mexico, and we are working on it,” Villaneuva says.


Image Source: Wikipedia/Thelmadatter

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