Last edited: January 01, 2005

In Mexico, a Mass Gay Wedding

Boston Globe, February 16, 2001
Box 2378, Boston, MA, 02107
Fax: 617-929-2098

By Marion Lloyd, Globe Correspondent

Mexico City — For Mirka Negroni, a Harvard graduate from Puerto Rico, it was a Valentine’s Day to remember.

The 36-year-old health researcher was among more than 200 gay and lesbian activists who took part in a symbolic mass wedding at the steps of Mexico City’s elegant Palace of Fine Arts.

"It’s time that people realize that the traditional nuclear family isn’t the only thing out there," she said, moments before exchanging vows with her partner alongside scores of other couples in an unprecedented show of gay solidarity in Mexico.

More than 3,000 people turned out for the event Wednesday night. Many waved the trademark rainbow-colored flags of the international gay pride movement.

Others wore Ku Klux Klan hoods emblazoned with swastikas, in protest against members of Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who oppose the movement.

But euphoria dominated the event. Participants were lending support to a proposal that would for the first time grant legal recognition to gay unions, though only within the federal capital. It would create a version of common law marriage, extending inheritance rights and social security to couples who currently lack legal recognition in Mexico. The bill would also apply to other nontraditional unions, such as the elderly and their caregivers.

"It’s about protecting all kinds of families, and that’s a wonderful thing," said Negroni, who moved here two years ago to live with her Mexican partner.

She said she became involved in the gay rights movement in Mexico after becoming an AIDS outreach worker in the impoverished border region.

There, she came across cases in which gay men who spent 15 years caring for companions with AIDS were later barred from collecting on their partners’ estates. "It’s really unbelievable stuff," she said.

Others said the significance of the gay unions was more symbolic than legal. "In Mexico, gay couples are invisible, particularly if they are female," said Alejandra Boleaga, 20, who has lived with another woman for several years. "This gives us a way to say, ‘Hey, this really is my partner and I have the paper to prove it."’

The Valentine’s Day ceremony broke new ground in a country where macho attitudes are an accepted part of the culture. In declaring the right to gay unions, activists have also taken on the Catholic Church, several of whose members have publicly attacked the movement.

The cardinal of Mexico City, Norberto Rivera Carrera, described the event as "a carnival," adding that participants were "confused about the sexuality that God has given them."

But gay activists have seized on a new political climate, following the victory of the first-ever opposition president, to further their equal rights agenda.

"This is the best chance that’s come along in a long time. Now is the moment to for action," said Yolanda Ramirez, the spokeswoman for the umbrella group Campaign for Cohabitation, which represents some 180 gay and civil activist groups.

The activists emphasized, however, that they are not seeking to push for legislation to grant full legal status under the specific term "gay marriage," nor the right for gay couples to become adoptive parents. "We respect the institution of marriage. But we don’t want to repeat this model," said Arturo Diaz, a representative in the city Legislature. Instead, he said activists want "the same rights that most Mexicans take for granted."

A parallel gay marriage bill presented last fall won little support among gay rights groups. They accused its promoter, legislator Armando Quintera, of trying to gain political mileage by aligning himself with a controversial cause.

"This is not Holland. Mexico is not ready for gay marriage," said Francisco Laguna, the editor of a gay men’s magazine and one of the event’s organizers.

Activists have focused their energy instead on establishing a legal framework for nontraditional unions, which they said would go a long way toward protecting gay couples against discrimination.

Unlike the United States, where a prohibition against sodomy is still on the books in some states, Mexico’s penal code has never outlawed homosexual acts. But police regularly raid on gay bars and pickup joints, invoking an ill-defined statute known as crimes against morality, say activists and human rights groups.

"It’s an excuse to extort gay people," said Ramirez, adding that real change would only come if supporters managed to get a similar bill through Congress.

"We’ve come this far," she said. "The rest is just a matter of time."

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