Mexico City Officials Legalize Gay Unions

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 10, 2006

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 9 -- The city assembly here legalized same-sex civil unions for the first time in Mexico's history, overcoming long-standing objections from the Catholic Church and prejudices stemming from this country's culture of machismo.

The law gives gay people in the country's largest city the right to make medical decisions for their partners and to list their partners as beneficiaries of pensions and inheritances. Activists hope it will inspire legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, perhaps at the national level.

"This is a historic day," said Alejandro Brito, director of the activist group Letra S: Health, Sexuality and AIDS. "It will reinvigorate our movement."

Mexico City has long had a reputation as one of the most tolerant places in Mexico for gays. But even here it was common for police to raid gay bars in the 1980s and early 1990s and to arrest gay people for alleged moral violations. There were also frequent beatings of gay men, whose attackers sometimes went unpunished by a society that discriminated against homosexuals and considered their lifestyle an affront to the macho image favored by many Mexican men.

Hundreds gathered Thursday outside the city assembly chambers to protest the gay union measure, but it passed easily on a vote of 43 to 17. The law was pushed by members of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, the left-leaning party that lost this summer's presidential election. It was opposed primarily by members of the National Action Party, or PAN, the party of President-elect Felipe Calderón, a gay marriage opponent.

The church in Mexico, the world's second-largest Catholic nation, had been a vocal opponent of previous efforts to pass a gay union law. But this time it did not speak out against the measure. In recent days, activists had warned church leaders that they should focus more on the problem of pedophile priests and less on attempts to block the gay union law.

The large Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, is now considering a gay union law.

"Our law here in Mexico City," Brito said, "could cause a chain reaction."

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