With same-sex marriage law, Mexico City becomes battleground in culture wars

By Anne-Marie O'Connor
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican wedding may never be the same.

On Thursday, this sprawling megalopolis will catapult to the front lines of gay rights in Latin America when a city law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption goes into effect.

The prospect of gay marriage has sent tremors through the Catholic Church, drawn the opposition of President Felipe Calderón and his conservative National Action Party (PAN), and spotlighted the power of Mexico City's center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) leaders to advance a liberal agenda that contrasts with provincial traditionalism.

Mexico allows the federal district of Mexico City to pass its own laws, and the metropolis of more than 20 million people has become a major battleground in the culture wars playing out across the Americas.

In recent years, the city's PRD-dominated Legislative Assembly has recognized civil unions and no-fault divorce, legalized abortion in the first trimester and given terminally ill patients the right to refuse treatment.

Now, as conservatives protest, gay couples from Xochimilco to Polanco are making plans to tie the knot.

Mexican actress Jesusa Rodríguez will marry her partner, Liliana Felipe, after 30 years together. "The important thing is that this law grants equality," Rodríguez said.

Many marriage-minded gay couples are preoccupied by concerns about the security of their loved ones.

Reyna Barrera, 70, had a breast removed two months ago, and although she is weak from chemotherapy, she is busy planning her wedding to her partner of 36 years, Sandra Ponce.

"This way, she is protected. She will get my pension, our house, everything from the life we built together," said Barrera, a literature professor at Mexico's National Autonomous University.

The Legislative Assembly passed the gay marriage act by a broad majority in December, as activists cheered and PAN representatives looked on in dismay. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD leader, signed the bill into law -- a first in Latin America.

"The family is under attack," warned Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera, saying that the "perverse" measure would inflict psychological damage on "innocent children."

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