Mexico quietly made history this month with a Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Previously, it was legal only in Mexico City and the states of Coahuila and Quintana Roo.
The high court's ruling effectively overrides all state laws defining marriage as “something to be celebrated between a man and a woman.” The ruling calls such legislation “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory.”
Activists are hailing the decision as an irreversible step in the right direction in a country with a reputation for being machista and devoutly Catholic. But the fight's not over. Several of the more conservative states are expected to tangle the court's ruling in red tape by creating obstacles for gay couples to exercise their new right.
Mexico’s LGBTQ community doesn't have a national figure to carry the torch for equal implementation of the law, but here are four up-and-coming activists who are ready the lead the fight on a local level.
"My friends say I might not be Harvey Milk, but they joke I’m Choco Leche (chocolate milk)," jokes Mexican lawyer and LGBTQ activist Jaime Lopez Vela.
Lopez has spent more than 15 years fighting for marriage equality and now works as a “gender defender” in Mexico’s new leftist party MORENA. He says Mexico’s Supreme Court has become the movement's greatest and unexpected ally in the fight for marriage equality
Lopez and his partner David were married in the first same-sex wedding celebrated in Mexico City in March, 2010. That set a precedent that the rest of the country is now catching up to.
“I never thought I would see the day when we would have legalized gay marriage, much less that I would be a key player, or even ever get married,” Lopez told Fusion. “I was surprised by the resolution, even though it has been slowly building up in the Supreme Court ever since we won the right to marry, and the court declared it constitutionally valid.”
He said the court's decision has essentially ended the national debate on gay marriage and all that’s left now is for the states to follow the law.
“We’re free. We can all get married, or divorced, or remarried just like anyone else,” he said defiantly.
Alexi Ali Mendez is a human rights lawyer who has taken on discrimination cases throughout the country. He too thinks the Supreme Court has become the LGBT's most powerful ally because it has “been consistent in each of its rulings” on marriage equality.
“Now we’re working on the final step: reform at the state level,” he told Fusion.
In 2012 Mendez played an instrumental role in a ruling that allowed same-sex marriage via court order in the southern state of Oaxaca. This was considered a landmark case that set a precedent in Mexico, opening a path to nationwide legalization as other courts began calling the traditional definition of marriage “unconstitutional.”
The trickle down effect achieved small milestones in many states throughout Mexico, including Jalisco, Queretaro, Colima, Sinaloa, and others.
“Zacatecas and Tlaxcala are the only states that haven’t set a precedent regarding gay marriage, but they’re next,” Mendez said. “In states like Chihuahua there is enough precedent and social pressure that now, even without reforming their civil code, couples can get married without a court order.”
“Coahuila reformed their code without a supreme court ruling [in September],” becoming the first state to fully legalize same-sex marriage voluntarily, Mendez explained. “This was unprecedented in the country and a totally new dynamic.”
Mendez said that the only thing standing in the way of marriage equality now is the “political willpower” to implement the law.
And that’s where activists come into play.
Fernando Urias and his partner Victor Aguirre made history in Mexicali as the first couple to get married there earlier this year. But they had to jump over a bunch of hurdles to make it happen.
The city repeatedly found creative ways to thwart a Supreme Court ruling in the couple’s favor, refusing to grant them a marriage license four times.
As the fight reached levels of absurdity, with the couple getting locked out of city hall on one marriage attempt, deemed them “too insane” on another, and forced to evacuate the building due to alleged “bomb threat” on a third wedding date.
Fernando and Victor were finally allowed to marry on Jan. 17. The ceremony took place in the parking lot of Mexicali’s city hall.
“I think we’re making progress,” Urias told Fusion after this month’s landmark decision.
One of the most emblematic cases of LGBT rights violations in Mexico occurred in 2008, when Agustin Estrada Negrete was fired from his job as the principal of a state school for disabled children after wearing a red dress to a gay pride march. After protesting his dismissal in front of the governor’s palace, he was put in jail, where he was allegedly tortured and repeatedly raped. He then fled to the United States, becoming the first Mexican to be granted political asylum here on grounds of persecution as a homosexual .
He too is celebrating the Mexican high court's decision, but says he'd like to see greater buy-in from the states.
“This is important, but what would truly be historic is for the states to approve it individually,” Estrada told Fusion in a phone interview from San Diego. “We still need laws to criminalize people who promote homophobia, or violence against gays.”
Thought there's a lot of work to be done, Estrada says Mexico's LGBT community should not hesitate to celebrate this victory.
“The Supreme Court made the right decision, and all countries should copy what has just happened in Mexico,” he said.
Andrea Noel is a freelance journalist based in Mexico
Rafa Fernandez De Castro is a Fusion consultant for Mexico and Latin America. He covers Mexican youth, politics, culture, narcos and funny stuff once in a while.