The bloody drug war has reinforced Mexico's image as a macho country with a taste for violence. It was, therefore, particularly heartening this week to hear that Mexico City once again has bucked the stereotype and placed itself at the forefront of social change in Latin America, passing a law permitting people of the same sex to marry and adopt children. This is a triumph of tolerance over prejudice, of equal rights over discrimination. It is a step toward fighting institutional and sometimes physical violence against homosexuals, because it says that gays and lesbians are just like everyone else.
Mexico City had already allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Now, prompted by the leftist majority of the city's legislative assembly, the definition of marriage has been changed from a union between a man and a woman to a "free union between two people." That means that all married couples regardless of sexual orientation will be allowed to inherit property, share insurance benefits and take out loans together, as well as adopt children. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the left-of-center Democratic Revolution Party is expected to sign the law in the coming weeks, as he did previously with a controversial bill legalizing abortion in some cases.
As the cultural capital of Latin America, Mexico City has long been more progressive than most of the region. Mexico remains a largely traditional society, and there is strong opposition to the changes from the dominant Roman Catholic Church and President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party, which has threatened to challenge the gay marriage law as unconstitutional in Mexico's Supreme Court. Gay rights activists believe constitutional protections against discrimination will prevail, but know they'll face a legal challenge and a public debate. "We will have to defend this," said legislator David Razu.
They also must be mindful of a potential backlash of the sort that followed the abortion bill. Since Mexico City liberalized its abortion laws in 2007, a majority of the nation's states have passed legislation declaring that life begins at conception, and antiabortion champions are seeking a nationwide constitutional ban.
The struggle for equal rights for gays and lesbians has not been easy anywhere, and Mexico is no different. It is unlikely that many states, if any, will follow Mexico City's lead in the near future. And hostility and prejudice cannot be erased with one law. Nevertheless, this is a tremendous advance for the millions of residents of the capital, including same-sex couples, who may soon begin receiving the rights and respect they are due.