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Mexico’s Catholic Church beats back gay marriage initiative

Ruling party on way to shelving president’s proposal for equality after heavy pressure from the far right

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is close to shelving an initiative by President Enrique Peña Nieto to amend the Mexican Constitution and legalize same-sex marriage. PRI congressional leaders who control the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have made it clear that the proposal is not a priority for them. Some observers say this move is a sign of their surrender before the more conservative sectors of the Mexican Catholic Church, which have carried out a fierce crusade against a measure that would see same sex couples able to marry legally in all 32 states.

Enrique Peña Nieto and Senator Emilio Gamboa
Enrique Peña Nieto and Senator Emilio Gamboa Notimex

When Congress convenes for a new session on September 1, the president’s proposal will start its countdown toward oblivion. The prospects, so far, are not good. César Camacho, former PRI president and leader of the Chamber of Deputies, was the first to say that the measure would only be looked at after the group had dealt with an “enormous, almost endless, extensive” list of issues. Emilio Gamboa, a veteran politician and Senate majority leader, did not paint an auspicious future for the proposal. “My impression is that it is not a priority issue today in the country and it is not an issue that Mexican society is pushing forward,” he said this week.

Activist groups, however, remain hopeful. “They have not made a decision as a parliamentary group,” says Lol Lin Castañeda, the first lesbian to get married in Mexico in 2010 and one the women writing the first constitution of Mexico City. Castañeda says there is a vibrant debate between progressives and conservatives within PRI. The activist lawyer has asked for a meeting with PRI’s new president, Enrique Ochoa, who took office in July, promising modernization and self-critique. Minority groups want to push the new PRI president to take a stronger stance on the issue. “As a party they have a responsibility to justice and to the Constitution.”

The bishops are using the weakness of the current administration to push forward their agenda

Bernardo Barranco, Sociologist

Others say the government is evidently capitulating to the Church. “The bishops are using the weakness of the current administration to push forward their agenda,” says Bernardo Barranco, an expert on religious issues. The sociologist says the laicism of the state is in play at a moment when the president is facing one of the lowest popular ratings on record and fighting opposition groups on several fronts. “Ultraconservative sectors are striking and putting him in a very uncomfortable position.”

Besides their rejection of same-sex marriage, conservatives demand that the government remove all lessons on gender from textbooks used in preschools and primary schools. Catholic conservatives say such teachings promote homosexuality. The Church has also urged its members to join in marches to be held in several cities from September 10 to September 24 to make their voices heard. “This call to action is an important test to measure the Church’s muscle,” Barranco says. Excluding gatherings to welcome Pope Francis, the last big religious march took place in Mexico City 30 years ago. More than 160,000 people filled Zócalo square to protest against abortion rights.

“They are calling for nationwide marches to protect something that is not even at risk,” says Lol Kin Castañeda. No one loses his right when the same privilege is extended to other groups, she explains. The activist attorney says far-right conservatives have carried out a campaign of “misinformation,” resorting to “insults, attacks and assaults” against the LGBT community.

Opposition at the state level is coming from individuals across the political spectrum

Meanwhile, the government has endorsed the religious marches. LGBT organizations criticize its feeble efforts when it comes to maintaining the separation of Church and state enshrined in Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution. The article provided measures that reduced the influence of the Catholic Church, favoring secularization as a political tool to promote peaceful coexistence after religious conflicts pitted Church against state. Article 130, however, led to the Cristero Rebellion that left 250,000 people dead.

Today marriage equality has led to a vigorous debate in Mexican society. Ten states currently allow civil unions for same sex couples. Twenty-two provinces are opposed to changing state laws even after the Mexican Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. And the opposition at the state level is coming from individuals across the political spectrum, from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution to the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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