By Marion Lloyd, Globe Correspondent
Mexico City For Mirka Negroni, a Harvard graduate from Puerto Rico, it
was a Valentines 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 Citys
elegant Palace of Fine Arts.
"Its time that people realize that the traditional nuclear family
isnt 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 Mexicos Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who oppose the
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.
"Its about protecting all kinds of families, and thats 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. "Its 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 Valentines 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
"This is the best chance thats 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 dont 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
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
"This is not Holland. Mexico is not ready for gay marriage," said
Francisco Laguna, the editor of a gay mens magazine and one of the events
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, Mexicos 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.
"Its an excuse to extort gay people," said Ramirez, adding
that real change would only come if supporters managed to get a similar bill
"Weve come this far," she said. "The rest is just a
matter of time."