By Andrew Beale
— When the first gay marriage happened in the city of Chihuahua in November, the celebrations didn’t reverberate on this side of the border. U.S. media paid very little attention to progress in Mexico—or to the cries of activists demanding an end to laws, practices and attitudes they say are still discriminatory.
Joel Galvan is the founder of the Integration of Diversity Movement (MovID, for its acronym in Spanish), an organization he started that was instrumental in pushing for marriage equality. The group helped pave the way for the first same-sex marriage in Chihuahua. Today, Galvan lives in Albuquerque and is seeking political asylum in the United States after receiving threats for his work back home.
He said that although huge strides have been made toward equality in Mexico, including the legalization of gay marriage in Mexico City and the southern states of Oaxaca and Quintana Roo, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their bond are facing serious legal challenges.
Chihuahua’s legislature weighed civil unions in 2010, a legal status that doesn’t afford full rights.
The first gay marriage in Chihuahua took place on Friday, Nov. 15, between Marco Villaseñor Quiroz and Jaime Gándara Salcido. But same-sex marriage licenses are only given through the use of amparos, or special orders for the protection of civil rights granted on a case-by-case basis. Because of important differences between civil unions and marriages, activists are calling instead for full marriage rights.
Galvan said one of the of the biggest problems with the Pacto Civil de Solidaridad, the law in Chihuahua that would have allowed for civil unions, is the fact that anyone entering into it would have lost their parental rights.
The text of the proposed update to the Pacto Civil de Solidaridad was not available online, but MovID provided the Compass with a copy, which we’ve linked to. The relevant passage reads “in the case of (those entering into the pact) being people of the same sex, they cannot have guardianship of their children from the other part of the signatories, and they cannot adopt children.”
The document quotes the lawyer Adela Lozoya at length in explaining its reasoning. “A couple decided to separate because the man opted to exercise his homosexual sexual orientation.” Their son wants to be with his father, she said. “Nevertheless, the law doesn’t permit it.”
Chihuahua’s State Commission for Human Rights affirmed that it is also illegal for gay couples to adopt children. Galvan said in practice this would mean that if someone has children and then later enters into a same-sex civil union, they would lose all rights to the children they already have and to any they may have in the future.
“When you sign the Pacto Civil de Solidaridad, you renounce paternity and maternity,” Galvan said.
Irmita Perez, another MovID activist who also works with an anti-human trafficking organization, said the consequences of this policy on children could be disastrous. Gay marriage opponents, she said, don’t want gay couples to retain their children, “but they prefer that they stay in orphanages, which have abused thousands of children,” she said.
Perez said the policy of taking children away from homosexual couples is a violation of human rights. “It’s not even a right, I think, of the homosexual couple to be able to form a family, but a right of the children,” she said. “They’re violating the primordial right of the children solely because of the sexual orientation of the parents.”
Lawmakers in Chihuahua have proposed putting gay marriage to a citizens’ referendum, which would circumvent the need for a civil-unions law. Galvan firmly rejects this idea. “We want to leave this message really clear: human rights can’t be voted on,” he said. “Why would all the citizens have to tell me if I can have children or not?”
MovID is working on a different solution. In Mexico, if five amparos are granted for the same reason, it sets a precedent that automatically becomes law. Five amparos have already been given to same-sex couples wishing to be married, but not all of them used the same legal reasoning, according to Galvan. MovID is working on winning several more cases in the hope of creating a new de-facto law permitting gay marriage.
But groups organizing against gay marriage in Chihuahua aren’t giving up the battle.
Several months before the first gay marriage was performed in Chihuahua, a woman named Veronica Grajeda posted an article on the website todoespolitica.com titled “Equal Marriage in Chihuahua?” Grajada is a vocal opponent, and her writing often makes the case against same-sex marriage.
“The fact that a person shows their desire to ‘marry’ another person doesn’t necessarily mean that they can do it, and this doesn’t imply any kind of discrimination,” she wrote. “Could a man complain of discrimination when he was prevented from marrying the woman he wanted to, simply because she was his sister?”
Galvan said Grajeda and others receive much more exposure in Mexican media than pro-gay-marriage groups and use their platform to spread disinformation about gay-marriage supporters.
The Mexican investigative magazine Proceso reported that the state’s Catholic Church has collected signatures against gay marriage and presented them to the legislature, though the church has denied this. Galvan refers to Grajeda’s Red Familia and other groups such as Courage Latino as “prohibited groups,” because, he said, they use church resources to lobby the state legislature, which is illegal in Mexico.
“They gathered signatures against us. This is illegal, because they were doing it in the church, and the state is secular,” he said. “So these groups work in the congress and are supposedly secular, but they work with the church and help with the church’s dirty work in the congress.”
NM Compass attempted to contact via phone and email Red Familia and Grejada, the legislature, and the Archdiocese of Chihuahua. As of press time, none responded to requests for comment.
In an emailed statement to NM Compass, Courage Latino denied any wrongdoing: “In our apostolate, we’re not in favor or against [homosexuality], we simply dedicate ourselves to giving help to people attracted to the same sex that want to live a life of chastity.”
Alejandro Redfield Ibarra, a gay man living in Chihuahua who worked briefly with MovID, said he’s seen first-hand the pressure that some groups put on the state to reject gay marriage. “The threats started when the first marriage took place, and there was a group of people outside the clerk’s office trying to stop the marriage,” he said. “People started comparing it with zoophilia, with pedophilia.”
‘Crimes of Passion’
While he struggle for equality in the United States has had a tumultuous history, in Mexico equal-rights activists face an entirely different set of challenges. “Homophobic crimes are classified as ‘crimes of passion,'” Galvan said. “The value of the crime is immediately diminished and, obviously, if the person is found guilty, the sentence is also lower.”
Galvan contributed to an internet project called the Mexican Obituary, cataloging the murders committed against the LGBTQ community. “All of these figures, all the information that could exist about how many people commit suicide because they’re gay, how many people die because they’re gay, how many people suffer discrimination for being gay, these figures aren’t kept as public statistics,” Galvan said.
Mexican NGO Letra S recorded 705 homophobic hate crimes in Mexico between 1995 and 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Last year, a lesbian couple was murdered in Chihuahua city.
Galvan said all of these factors contributed to his decision to seek political asylum in the U.S., and he hopes his case can be used to help others in the future. “The lawyer that takes these cases in Mexico is going to apply for political asylum for me for one reason: They want to use my case to show that in Mexico there are no laws that prevent discrimination and that have administrative sanctions or penalties,” he said.
Still, Perez, the anti-human trafficking activist, said that despite the highly charged and sometimes violent opposition, the battle for rights for gay people in Chihuahua is making progress. “I think we’re moving forward,” she said. “It’s already an accomplishment to say they can get married, no?”