A gay rights supporter rallies for passage of the bill in front of the Mexico… (Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Mexico City — In a move that may put Mexico City at odds with the rest of the country, the local legislature approved a far-reaching gay rights bill Monday, voting to allow people of the same sex to marry and to adopt children.
The leftist-dominated legislature of this massive city of about 20 million people turned aside opposition from the influential Roman Catholic Church and ended lively debate to approve the measure by a 39-20 vote. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard is expected to sign the bill into law.
"Mexico City has put itself in the vanguard," said legislator Victor Hugo Romo. "This is a historic day."
Mexico City's initiative goes further than any other in Latin America by rewriting the law to redefine marriage as a "free union between two people," not only between a man and a woman. It gives homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual pairs, including the right to adopt, inherit, obtain joint housing loans and share insurance policies.
Several countries, most of them in Europe, and a handful of U.S. states have legalized same-sex marriage in recent years, and the issue is being hotly debated in parts of predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America. Uruguay was the first Latin American nation to recognize same-sex unions, as well as adoptions by gay couples, and some cities in Argentina have adopted similar laws.
Proponents praised the bill as helping remove the stigma and discriminatory practices that hurt gays, while opponents decried what they called an affront to the institution of family.
"This is wonderful," gay rights activist Judith Vasquez said from the noisy legislature floor, where proponents chanted, "Yes, we could!" and waved rainbow flags. Gay "couples have effectively been together for years, decades, centuries," she said. "But now it is our right."
Most of the opposition in the city's legislature came from President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party, which has threatened to take the city to court if Ebrard does not veto the measure.
Also opposed was the Roman Catholic Church, which labeled the proposal immoral, saying marriage must hold the promise of procreation. Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera said the law created the "perverse possibility" that "innocent children" would be adopted by gay couples.
"It is an aberration," said activist Jorge Serrano Limon. "Marriage cannot be between men. That is absurd."
Mexico City, as a rule, is less conservative than much of the rest of the country, relatively open to sexual freedoms and expressions.
Under Ebrard and his Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, which controls the legislature, Mexico City has been at the forefront of social policy, often taking stances a far distance from other parts of the country.
The city, for example, legalized abortion in 2007, a decision that has since backfired and prompted states across Mexico to dig in their heels against abortion.
"They have given Mexicans a very bitter Christmas," Armando Martinez Gomez, president of the College of Catholic Attorneys, told The Times. "They have eliminated the word 'father' and 'mother.' "
It was unclear when Ebrard planned to sign the gay rights bill into law, and Martinez called on the mayor to veto the bill.
He noted that it went even further than the city executive had intended when legislators removed a clause that would have forbidden adoption. PAN lawmakers also demanded that Ebrard exercise his veto.
Martinez and other opponents had sought a citywide referendum on the issue, similar to the one California held last year, instead of a vote in the legislature. He said surveys taken by his organization showed overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage. (Another survey published last week by the Reforma newspaper showed opinion more evenly divided.)
He also predicted a backlash against gays. "There will be repercussions, the unleashing of homophobia. Ours is not a very tolerant society."
Before Monday's vote, Mexico City already had on the books a law that allowed a kind of legal union between unmarried people, under which they could avail themselves of a limited number of services and benefits. Only 680 couples have done so since the law took effect in 2007.
It was unclear how many gays and lesbians might be expected to rush to the altar (or, as required in Mexico, the judge's chambers).
"For centuries, unfair laws prohibited marriage between whites and blacks, between Europeans and Indians," legislator Romo, of the PRD, said. "Today, all the barriers have disappeared."
Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood contributed to this report.