“For a healthy and happy childhood”, “For a Mexico with values” and “Against Gender Ideology”: Last saturday, posters like these could be seen in more than 100 cities in almost every state in Mexico. A religious association – amongst them mostly Catholics, but also Methodists and Mormons – called “Frente Nacional por la Familia” (“National Front for the Family”) took their stand against same-sex marriage, adoption rights for gay couples and diverse sexual education to the streets. It is hard to tell how many people really participated. In the state of Guadalajara, the organization claimed 250.000 protesters, authorities confirmed around 50.000. After the federal marches, a nationwide demonstration is expected in Mexico City on September 24.
Wearing white and waving pastel-colored balloons, the alliance made up of hundreds of organizations stresses they don’t march against the gay community, but for the family. To human rights lawyer Alex Ali Méndez Díaz, the church is the main reason for the widespread homophobia in Mexico. It is due to him that the first lesbian couple could be legally married in his home state of Oaxaca in 2012. He is a founding member of the initiative “Matrimonio Igualtario” (“Equal Marriage“) which tries to implement the same marriage and adoptions right for gay and straight couples in various states throughout Mexico.
Even though previously contracted marriages are recognized in all of Mexico, same-sex marriages are not allowed on a national level. In May 2016, president Enrique Peña Nieto proposed to legalize same-sex marriages, to assimilate adoption rights and to furthermore strengthen the rights of people who identify as transsexual. Currently, Mexico City is the only Mexican municipality in which transsexuals are allowed to change their gender institutionally. Peña Nieto’s request was rejected by the senate in August. For his own party PRD, the issue was “not a priority”.
It is this institutional neglect that Alex Ali Méndez Díaz perceives as the fundamental discrimination of the LGBT community: “Marrying or not is one of the principal decisions of one’s life. And currently, it is a decision that is made by the state, a decision that has been made long before without taking anyone’s will into consideration.” Other issues arise when children are involved: “We had cases in which a heterosexual couple separated and the woman started a relationship with another woman. Her ex-husband demanded full custody, because his ex-wife’s sexual orientation was seen as a threat to the child’s development.” The father’s will was granted.
Méndez Díaz has spent almost his entire life in rural Oaxaca. Institutional discrimination was a common sight: “If a policeman saw you, a guy, holding hands with your boyfriend, he would detain you for no proper reason”, he says. But he also mentions that growing up as a gay man in Oaxaca was not as bad for himself; he comes from a good family and was becoming a lawyer: “But I know that my personal story is not isolated. Coming out to the family and to my friends at university was a challenge and I knew that it was worse for others”, he states.
His juridical commitment was not planned. “It’s not like I got up one day and said ‘Hey, let’s get organized and fight for same-sex marriages”, he explains. In his activist group in Oaxaca, he was the only lawyer. When a lesbian couple asked for his help in court, he agreed to engage in the bureaucratic odyssey that should last for two years. In March 2013, he could finally attend the first gay marriage in his home state. His most immediate feeling? “Well, finally it’s done.” Although fighting through all the instances was tough, funding the process was tougher: “I paid the expenses myself. We had no financial support whatsoever.”
The financial situation of “Matrimonio Igualtario” is quite different from that of the institution it perceives as the greatest threat to tolerance: the Roman Catholic church. Being the country with the second biggest catholic population worldwide (the biggest one being Brazil), Mexico ranks ninth on the list of those countries that contribute most money to the Vatican. Archbishops from states such as Veracruz and Chiapas support the cause of the “Frente Nacional por la Familia”. Their main concern is the disintegration of the “natural” family: a man, a woman, children. Using the Hashtag #NoTeMetasConMisHijos (roughly: “Don’t talk my children into it!“) they protest sexual education which includes other sexual orientations or, as they say: “gender ideology”.
Nevertheless, it is important for them to stress that “we don’t want to discriminate anybody, we respect everybody’s preferences and equally demand respect for the institution of marriage between man and woman”. To Méndez Díaz organizations like these and their religious justifications perpetuate homophobic hate crimes. A Mexico that is deeply religious and tolerant at the same, however, is not necessarily a contradiction: “There are many people who identify as catholics and condemn this act of discrimination by the church. Most of them do not question the equality of homosexuals. It is, I think, even the obligation of a church to promote equality and compassion.”
However contrasting their attitudes might be, what both Alex Ali Méndez Díaz and the “Frente Nacional por la Familia” have in common is their disapproval of the current political situation in the country. To the human rights lawyer, the Mexican justice system is too corrupt and undemocratic to really implement anti-discrimination laws. “Matrimonio Igualtario” itself bases its integrity on their independence from political parties. To the religious activist group, Peña Nieto’s proposal is just another outgrowth of his failed policy considering security, economy and the protection of children.
The activists want to say “yes to the family, yes to the freedom of expression.” According to Méndez Díaz, it is precisely this claimed freedom of expression the church is exceeding by far: “Telling their communities not to vote for certain political parties because they are in favour of equal rights of same-sex couples it is not compatible with a secular democracy.” The heated debate about what constitutes a family will be continued on September 24 at a conceivably symbolic site: The march will pass by the “Auditorio Nacional”, right in front of the Angel of Independence in the heart of Mexico City. It remains to be seen whose voice will be heard by the equally divided government.