Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Mexico City has become the gay capital of the Americas.
It happened on Monday night, when the capital's assembly voted to legalize same-sex marriage, making the city the first in Latin America to do so and propelling it to the vanguard of gay trailblazers in the Western Hemisphere.
It was a stunning vote by any measure. This happened in the heart of Latin America where homosexuality is an abomination and "maricón" and "pata" are among the most odious words you can hurl at anyone. This is the land of machismo where swishy boys are condemned to mockery and perhaps suicide. It has never been a land of sexual tolerance. A friend of mine remembers that her Costa Rican grandmother, who has lived in New York for decades, has known but has been in denial that a daughter and her partner are lesbians, pretending that the women are just friends. Being gay is not easy anywhere, but few regions are as punishing as the land below the Rio Grande and the people born and grown there.
Here in Mexico you have a socially conservative and deeply Roman Catholic city now giving gays and lesbians the right to marry, while thousands of miles north of the border the two most progressive U.S. states, New York and California, defeat gay marriage legislation and 30-plus other states have banned it. (True, our nation's capital last week approved same-sex marriages, but Washington, D.C., is a small city compared to Mexico, Distrito Federal, the most populous city in North America.)
"Sí, podimos!" "Yes, we did it!" So familiar that chant, and at times so empty, but not this time, not in Mexico City.
Holding up posters and the international gay banner, the rainbow flag, gay advocates roiled the air with shouts of celebration as the vote, 39-20, was announced.
Now the signature of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the Democratic Revolution Party will make it a law that will change the definition of marriage to "the free uniting of two people." It will allow gay couples to adopt children, apply for bank loans, and inherit wealth, among other benefits.
All is not smooth going. President Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party promises to challenge the law in the courts, the Roman Catholic Church will press its anti-gay campaign, and conservatives will blame the gay victory on the capital's liberal bubble. "They have given Mexicans the most bitter Christmas,'' said Armando Martínez, the president of the College of Catholic Attorneys.
That sounds familiar. Latin America has a history of persecuting gays and lesbians -- Fidel Castro infamously imprisoned gays -- and banishing them to the shadows. Gay victories are few. Buenos Aires was close to allowing the continent's first gay marriage last month when a court blocked it, and though Rio de Janeiro is one of the world's most tolerant cities, it has no gay marriage prospects.
But today Mexico City moves to the front lines. Bravo!
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