Mexican Supreme Court finds gay marriage ban unconstitutional

*This piece was originally published by Michael Lavers on Washington Blade on February 19, 2013.

Mexican Supreme Court finds gay marriage ban unconstitutionalThe Mexican Supreme Court on Monday formally released its ruling that found a Oaxacan law that bans same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

The 56-page decision cites two U.S. Supreme Court cases that specifically addressed race-based discrimination and segregation: Loving v. Virginia that found state bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional and Brown v. Board of Education that struck down laws that allowed separate public schools for black and white students.

“The historic disadvantages that homosexuals have suffered have been amply recognized and documented: public scorn, verbal abuse, discrimination in their places of employment and in the access of certain services, including their exclusion from certain aspects of public life,” the judges wrote. “In comparative law it has been argued that discrimination that homosexual couples have suffered when they are denied access to marriage is analogous with the discrimination suffered by interracial couples at another time.”

They further point out the U.S. Supreme Court said in Loving v. Virginia that restricting marriage on the basis of race is “incompatible” with the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“In connection with this analogy, it can be said that the normative power of marriage is of little use if it does not give the possibility to marry the person that one chooses,” the judges wrote.

The court released its decision more than two months after the judges unanimously struck down the Oaxaca law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Three couples tried to apply for marriage licenses in the state, but local authorities denied their applications. Lawyer Alex Alí Méndez Díaz filed lawsuits on behalf of two of the couples in Aug. 2011 and a third in Jan. 2012 who sought legal recourse — an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system — to ensure local authorities would protect their constitutional rights.

The ruling also comes roughly six weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“They do it when in our country there is no previous rulings on the subject,” Méndez told the Washington Blade from Mexico City when asked whether it is common for Mexican Supreme Court judges to cite cases from other countries in their decisions. “These rulings are the first at the national level that support the topics in the way in which we had planned.”

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the Mexican capital since 2010, and the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled other states must recognize gay marriages legally performed in Mexico City. Gays and lesbians have also married in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula, while the state of Coahuila offers property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to same-sex couples.

The Uruguay House of Representatives in December overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Same-sex marriage advocates expect the measure will easily pass in the country’s Senate in April — President José Mujica has said he will sign it into law.

A Colombian Senate committee in December also approved a same-sex marriage bill. A court in the Brazilian state of São Paolo later that month ordered registries to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples without a judge’s approval.

Argentina has allowed same-sex couples to marry since 2010, while Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in 2011 said he would introduce a bill that would allow gay men and lesbians to enter into civil unions. Same-sex couples would be allowed to tie the knot and adopt children in French Guiana under a proposal the French Senate is scheduled to begin debating on April 2.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Feb. 2012 ruled in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband in 2005 because of her sexual orientation. Three gay couples from Chile who had been denied marriage licenses filed a lawsuit with the tribunal last September after the South American country’s Supreme Court ruled against them.

The Mexican Supreme Court cited the Atala case its decision that only applies to the three same-sex couples who had sought marriage licenses in Oaxaca.

“It just confirms that fighting for marriage equality on a federal level makes more sense and is becoming an increasingly global trend,” Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT activist and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade.

The Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday is expected to formally announce its decision on whether the Oaxacan law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman is discriminatory. The judges will have to rule on an additional “amparo” from Oaxaca before gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot in the state.

“For there to be same-sex marriage throughout the country, if there is not a reform of the civil laws of each state, we will need five rulings in each one of the states that comprise the federation [of Mexico,]” Méndez noted.

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Mexican Supreme Court rules against same-sex marriage ban

*This piece was originally published by Michael Lavers on Washington Blade on December 6, 2012.

Mexican Supreme Court rules against same-sex marriage banThe Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously struck down a law in the southern state of Oaxaca that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Three couples — Lizeth Citlalli Martínez Hernandez and María Monserrat Ordóñez Narváez, Jesús Reyes Álvarez and Guillermo Emmanuel Martínez Pimental and Karina Mendieta Pérez and Gabriela Castellanos Mota — tried to apply for marriage licenses in Oaxaca, but local authorities denied their applications.

Lawyer Alex Alí Méndez Díaz filed lawsuits on behalf of two of the couples in Aug. 2011 and a third in January who sought legal recourse, known as an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system, that would ensure local authorities would protect their constitutional rights. Geraldina González de la Vega, a lawyer who advised Méndez, noted to the Washington Blade this “remedy can be used against laws or acts of authority” in Mexico.

A Oaxacan court in April ruled in favor of Martínez and Ordóñez, but against Reyes and Martínez and Mendieta and Castellanos. An appellate judge in August cited the Mexican constitution that bans anti-gay discrimination in his ruling that ordered Oaxacan authorities to allow same-sex marriages.

The state’s governor and Congress petitioned the Mexican Supreme Court to review the case — Méndez also asked the tribunal to determine the criteria under which the Oaxacan marriage law should be understood.

“The court did not declare the unconstitutionality of the law, but the effect of its application is that the justices said that one would have to understand marriage is a contract celebrated between two people without any reference to the sex of those who enter into it,” Méndez told the Washington Blade during an interview from Mexico City hours after the justices issued their decision.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the Mexican capital since 2010, and the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled other states must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in Mexico City. Same-sex couples have also married in Quintana Roo, which includes the resort city of Cancún on the Yucután Peninsula.

The state of Coahuila offers property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to same-sex couples.

The latest Mexican Supreme Court decision only applies to Oaxaca, but advocates maintain these cases will open the doors to same-sex marriages across the country.

González noted the court needs to issue five rulings before the “amparo” will “have general effects” throughout the country.

“We already have three,” she said.

“These cases set a precedent that can be invoked in any other state in Mexico,” Méndez added. “While it is not obligatory for those who must resolve these new cases, there is a high possibility that the result will be the same as what we have obtained in Oaxaca.”

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT activist and blogger in Mexico City, agreed.

“It’s not going to be long before same-sex marriage is a reality in the whole country,” he told the Blade on Wednesday. “It’s a matter of same-sex couples who have been thinking about getting married and haven’t done it either because they’re not in Mexico City and traveling is not an option or because they were going to get no for an answer. It’s just a matter of time of trying it out as these couples in Oaxaca [did] and sort of contribute to this history.”

The Mexican Supreme Court issued its ruling hours after a Colombian Senate committee approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. Senators in the South American country are expected to debate the bill on Tuesday.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Argentina since 2010. Neighboring Uruguay allow civil unions for gays and lesbians, but the country’s lawmakers are expected to debate a same-sex marriage measure on Tuesday.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in February ruled in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband in 2005 because of her sexual orientation. Three gay Chilean couples who had been denied marriage licenses filed a lawsuit with the tribunal in September after the country’s Supreme Court ruled against them.

The Mexican Supreme Court cited the Atala case in its decision.

“Our country has already been sanctioned on many occasions by the IACHR,” Méndez said. “Our country, being part of this Inter-American system, will have to follow this trend in regard to protecting the human rights of the LGBT community.”

J. Lester Feder, a former Politico reporter who has covered the same-sex marriage throughout Latin America for four months for his blog AfterMarriage.org, noted to the Blade from Oaxaca that courts throughout the region often look to those in other countries in reaching their own decisions. He said the Atala case is one of the legal precedents the Oaxacan couples used in their successful lawsuits.

Justice José Ramón Cossío told CNN en Español he expects the same-sex marriage could become a reality throughout the country within a few months.

“The three cases are effective with respect to the state of Oaxaca,” he said. “By the position that we have on the Supreme Court as the country’s highest tribunal, it is foreseeable that if other people from other federal entities challenged a code that had a similar condition, the court would reiterate its criteria and within the next few months will guarantee the juris prudence that will become mandatory.”

Feder agreed.

“It means that it’s very likely universal marriage rights are going to be available in Mexico well before the United States,” he said. “International human rights law in the Americas is [increasingly interpreting] marriage rights as human rights, but the United States legal system doesn’t internalize international norms. We’re not participating in that trend.”