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

With the news, same-sex couples across the region began to demand equal access to the altar.

"Homosexual Marriage is Approved in Mexico. And in Chile, When?" read a headline in Chilean news Web site El Paradiario 14.

On Feb. 23, Buenos Aires judge Elena Liberatori told a gay couple to set a wedding date, despite policies that are "not in line with the times." In late December, two men whose wedding plans were derailed by a Buenos Aires court married in Tierra del Fuego -- home to a tolerant governor -- becoming the first gay couple in Latin America to legally wed.

Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions in 2007; they also are recognized in Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, but advocates for gay rights say only marriage can protect the rights of families in such matters as property and custody.

Mexico's ruling party does not want the Mexico City law to be the catalyst for a domino effect.

The attorney general filed a challenge with the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violates the constitution.

"The constitution of the republic speaks explicitly of marriage between a man and a woman," Calderón, a devout Catholic, said in early February.

According to the constitution, "men and women are equal under the law," and "this protects the organization and development of the family."

Advocates said there has been no popular backlash to the law.

"I don't understand why a president would invent a constitution that concerns itself with weddings," said Mexican intellectual Carlos Monsiváis. "There has been a campaign by the church and the right, but not by the people. There is still a lot of machismo, but not as much as there used to be -- and not nearly as much as people believed."

An opinion poll by El Universal newspaper in November found that 50 percent of Mexico City respondents accepted gay marriage and 38 percent opposed it. Residents ages 18 to 39 were more likely to be supporters.

A survey by Calderón's party found that more than half of those polled opposed same-sex marriage and that 74 percent opposed adoption by gay couples. "Marriage, as it was originally conceived, as a union between a man and a woman, guarantees the future of the state and of Mexican society," Mariana Gómez del Campo, PAN's leader in Mexico City, told a radio interviewer.

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