Mexican Supreme Court rules on gay partner benefits

*This piece was originally published by Michael Lavers on Washington Blade on January 31, 2014.

Mexican Supreme Court rules on gay partner benefitsThe Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled the same-sex spouses of those who receive benefits under the country’s social security system must receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.

El Economista, a Mexican newspaper, reported the justices in a 3-2 ruling said the Mexican Social Security Institute – Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social in Spanish – must extend the same benefits that married heterosexual couples receive to gays and lesbians who have either tied the knot or entered into civil unions.

José Alberto Gómez Barroso, who married his partner in Mexico City in 2012, sought legal recourse through the Mexican judicial system after officials denied his request to add his spouse as a beneficiary under the country’s social security system. A lower court last year dismissed Gómez’s case after he passed away.

“The court’s ruling without a doubt is cause for celebration,” Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, a lawyer who filed lawsuits in 2011 and 2012 on behalf of three same-sex couples who tried to apply for marriage licenses in Oaxaca, told the Washington Blade. “The Supreme Court has been at the forefront of taking up decisions in relation to the rights of the LGBT community in Mexico.”

The ruling comes against the backdrop of the movement in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Mexico that continues to gain momentum.

The Mexican Supreme Court last February ruled the Oaxacan law that bans same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. States must also recognize gay nuptials that have taken place in Mexico City since the Mexican capital’s same-sex marriage law took effect in 2010.

A lesbian couple last month exchanged vows in Guadalajara in Jalisco. Gays and lesbians have also married in Colima, Chihuahua and in Quintana Roo and Yucatán on the Yucatán Peninsula on which the resort city of Cancún is located.

Same-sex couples in Baja California del Norte in which Tijuana is located and other states have sought marriage rights through the Mexican legal system. Coahuila currently extends property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to gays and lesbians.

“Since the legalization of same-sex marriage in Mexico City, the Mexican Social Security Institute has been one of the toughest organizations to lobby, one of the most stubborn institutions when it comes to amending their rules and giving equal treatment to its affiliates who have same-sex couples,” Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade on Thursday as he discussed the Mexican Social Security Institute ruling. “This is another step towards equality for gay and lesbian couples.”

Méndez stressed gay and lesbian Mexicans continue to suffer discrimination as long as they are unable to secure marriage rights.

“The court responded within the extent of its authority, but the result is insufficient,” he told the Blade. “The respect of human rights should be the general rule and its violation is an exception that must be addressed.”

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.

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, 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.”

Talking to Fred Karger

On March 23, 2011, Fred Karger was the first to announce he was running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. On June 29, 2012, he quit the race.

Before that he had worked at nine other campaigns, including Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He is the president of Rights Equal Rights, has investigated the Mormon church and the National Organization for Marriage‘s campaigns against marriage equality in California and Maine.

Fred was the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major political party in his country’s history. This interesting character agreed to talk to me a few weeks ago:

Why do you want to be president of the United States?I am very concerned about the direction of our country under president Obama. He has not done all the things I had hoped he would do, which was to bring our economy back, lift the spirit of Americans, and he has failed. And I think I have the ability to excite this country, to bring back its American spirit that Ronald Reagan was very successful in – and I worked for Reagan for seven years. I think it’s time for an openly gay candidate to run and be successful. I think that will do a tremendous amount of good for our civil rights movement all over the world.

One of the most common reactions to your character, to your background, is the shock of you being American, Jewish, gay, and a Republican. What do you have to say about this to those people who view U.S. politics in such black & white terms? You know, the Republican Party has done a lot of bad things, particularly in the last 35 years in our gay civil rights arena. All the bad that has come out of politics seems to come from republicans, and that is not the Republican Party I grew up with. It has become very different. It was never a party that was for discrimination. It was never a party that talked about social issues the way the candidates do now. So, I think it’s important that we do not give up on the Republican Party. To those of us who believe in a different Republican Party of inclusion, of bringing younger people in, of opening it up to women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, and everyone, I think that tide is now moving back. And in this country we’ve been successful because of Republicans.

Tell me about the campaign. What sort of feedback are you getting? Can you tell me about other openly LGBTs or straight allies in the Republican Party? Are there any gay nonprofits supporting you? I got my first endorsement from an LGBT state organization, Equality Michigan, and I was very honored. It’s the first time they’ve done that. And I’ve appealed to other state organizations. They’re a little slower to move because of my Republican connection and affiliation.

That someone who is openly gay can run for the highest office in our country sends a very strong message to them that they’re okay, that they can do anything they want in life, even run for president. I’ve spoken in high schools, to teenagers, to gay-straight alliances, in colleges and universities. I’ve been to clubs, bars, drag shows. You name it. I’ve been all over this country.

What is the value of having openly LGBT politicians? What is the value of having an openly gay candidate in your country? Just by virtue of candidates running, it sends a message that we are now stepping up to the place where we’re no longer hiding. I was in the closet for most of my adult life. I’ve always been gay, but I kept that secret. And I don’t want others to have to live the way I did. So, I think that’s an important message for our community, that it’s okay now. Times are very different. It’s still difficult to many of us to come out, but more and more are every day, younger and younger. To have openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender candidates sends a powerful message all over the world to our community, to our opponents, to our allies, that we are to be taken seriously, that we are going to have an impact on the political process.

Blabbeando with Andrés Duque

“I’m game!” That was Andrés Duque‘s response when I asked him for an interview.

I think I first came across Blabbeando shortly after I arrived in New York (where he is based) in 2008, and have been a faithful reader since. Andrés reports on LGBT issues with a smart, inquiring style. Always “thought-provoking and fun”, as he said he intended to on his first blog post. He is also a great interviewer and very amusing Twitter user.

Blabbeando has been included in The Gay & Lesbian Foundation Top 100 LGBT Blogs, nominated for the 2011 GLAAD Awards and The 2008 Weblog Awards.

What has been your experience as a Colombian, gay immigrant, blogger and activist? The immigrant experience is uniquely different for each and every person who comes to the United States so I would hesitate to say my own experience is representative to that of others. But I do think it’s imperative for those of us who did immigrate to this country to stand up for others –including undocumented immigrants- particularly now that the issue is being demonized and used to rile up political anger. It’s mind-boggling to see how people react to economic fears by misdirecting their anger on communities that are less protected than themselves instead of rightfully blaming the policies that created the current economic downturn.

Immigration, in fact, has been of great economic and social benefit to this country over the centuries. But it shouldn’t just be about benefits. It’s about being a more humane nation. There is no reason why the wealthiest nation in the world cannot provide opportunities for immigrants to develop their full potential regardless of economic or educational background.

Of course, if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrant, the odds can be even worse if you come to this country on your own. The nation’s immigration policy is based on a federal family-reunification model that does not even recognize LGBT families. For many who might qualify otherwise, this means there are no legal options to become a naturalized citizen. It’s not that countries should not have an immigration policy. It’s that the current United States immigration policy is so absurd it actually acts against its best interests.

How did you get into blogging? I started blogging six years ago without really having a clear idea of what it was all about. But I had already noticed a few other blogs and their potential to shine a light on issues that were not being reported or debated in mainstream media. Obviously, I have always had a passion for anything Latino and/or LGBT and, from the start, that was my focus, but it was and still is a personal blog with a mix of stories, some of which do not have to do with the Latino LGBT community at all. In that sense, it took me a while to find my voice and find a comfortable writing rhythm.

Initially, I remember trying to use hyperlinks to document almost every single thing I mentioned in a blog post. It took a while for me to realize that most readers only wanted the basic information and a link or two to corroborate if I was properly describing the issue. There also was an additional obstacle: most English-language bloggers can simply point to a link and have people explore that link if they want additional information. For most news posts I rely on Spanish-language articles, which means I actually have to translate most of the background information into English as well, which can take a lot of time.

Besides having your own blog, do you collaborate with other media? There is a Germany-based media group that offers a feed to my blog posts as part of a media package that includes leading mainstream media from around the world. I also have great collaborative relationships with other online media sites including Latino gossip site Guanabee and pop culture site Racialicious which sometimes cross-posts some of my entries.

I am also grateful to count with support from some of the leading LGBT-news bloggers in the United States including Towleroad, Joe.My.God., After Elton, Pam’s House Blend, LGBT POV, The Bilerico Project, Queerty, Rod 2.0, Autostraddle and The New Civil Rights Movement, who often link up to my posts. It’s thanks to them and others that I enjoy a pretty wide readership out there. It is no coincidence that every one of these blogs mostly focus on LGBT news, politics and culture.

Not every blog writer posts a daily entry or multiple daily posts. I’m sure most people don’t even realize how much perseverance, dedication, personal sacrifice and time it takes a blogger to keep up that sort of blogging rhythm but it’s almost a Herculean task. And all the blogs I mentioned above manage to do that while sustaining their quality.

Which blogs do you follow the most or consider worth checking out? The blogs mentioned above are among my daily reads but there are other blogs that are not updated as frequently or might offer unique points of view. Among my favorites, and it might be an eclectic list, are TransGriot, which takes a look at LGBT issues from an African-American transgender woman’s perspective; Monaga, the thoughts of a U.S. expatriate from Harlem living in the Dominican Republic; Hairspray & Fideo, Mi blog es tu blog and Vivir Latino, three different takes on Latino life in the United States; This is fyf, a very specific snap-shot of modern NYC gay life and JockoHomo, which is, well, JockoHomo.

I also follow a few Spanish-language blogs, including Tengo un crush con Nuevallorrrr*, of course, as well as Pedro Julio Serrano (U.S./Puerto Rico), Vivir México (Mexico), Malbarracin (Colombia), Dos Manzanas (Spain), Lake (Argentina), AG Magazine (Argentina), Paquito el de Cuba (Cuba) and Blog de Lima Gay.

And finally, there is a new entry in the form of a blog/online magazine called xQsí Magazine, which is based in the United States and shows great potential. I would say that of all the blogs listed above, it’s probably the one that most overlaps the subject matter on my blog.

You are one of the most heard voices in the Latino LGBT community in New York, the whole country maybe. Do you feel some kind of responsibility for this? To be sincere, I am often unaware of the true reach of a blog. When someone actually recognizes you on the street and tells you they are a fan of Blabbeando it kinda floors you. But I don’t often think about that when I write. I do get the sense that most people who read my blog posts are not necessarily habitual readers. Most stumble upon it from other sites but once they come back a second or third time they realize I am providing information that is unique to U.S. English-language media and they become habitual readers.

In some ways, I think there is a novelty factor for readers when they read my posts on Blabbeando and find out about the tremendous advances that have taken place on LGBT rights in Latin America over the last fifteen years. It challenges deeply ingrained stereotypes that Latinos and Latin America, as a whole, are extremely homophobic. It’s not that homophobia does not exist in the region or in Latin American culture but you rarely see reporting showing these advances.

When it starts getting tricky is when others start recognizing you as an influential blogger and you start getting all sort of pitches that are not particularly relevant to the topics I cover on the blog. Most come from companies who probably see the Latino community as a marketing opportunity and see my blog as a way to reach a specific segment of that community. When it comes down to it, what they actually want is free advertising, and yet when you mention advertising opportunities on the blog you never hear from them again.

You do feel a sense of responsibility when it comes to regular readers and people who come looking for exclusive information. In that sense, I do feel pressure to be as accurate as I am able to be when breaking news and to correct myself when I get things wrong. Also, for a while I tried to be snarky and gossipy because I felt readers would enjoy it, but ultimately it wasn’t my style. I ended up erasing a few posts where I felt I had dished out at a couple of celebrities. It just made me feel dirty. Others do gossip much better than I do.

There has been some criticism that I haven’t covered a number of Latino LGBT stories out there on the one hand, or, on the other, that I have abandoned my roots as an independent blogger as the blog has grown in influence. From the start, I have followed some personal guidelines and mostly focused on unreported stories which often means that if a story is being covered by other blogs out there with larger readerships or by mainstream media, there’s not a lot more I feel I can ad to it.

Blogging is also not something I do for a living so it would be impossible to cover every single thing. As of late, I think that has been on my mind as I mull whether to change the blog format or eliminate some of the more personal posts that have little to do with LGBT Latino issues. But, for now, it seems to appeal to many folks out there and I’m not sure I would have much interest in turning the blog into a 24/7 news source.

I think you see a lot of long-time bloggers wrestle with issues as well and I have seen a lot of bloggers I used to read abandon the blogging format and embrace micro-blogging sites like Twitter and Tumblr. But I still believe there is a healthy environment for older blogs and new blogs out there, particularly if you have a distinct voice.

Which issues are a priority for the Latino LGBT community in New York and the U.S.? The same as the general Latino community in New York and the United States: employment and economic security, immigration reform and access to education and healthcare. Sometimes the question about community “priorities” bothers me –and I know you didn’t mean it that way– because it’s usually code speak for ‘your priority is not important, my priority is’. I am a huge believer in chewing gum and walking at the same time –at least metaphorically because I don’t like gum– and believe we can advocate and work towards several goals at the same time.

What do you think of Colombia’s Constitutional Court’s recent decision on same-sex marriage? What will happen? You know? I don’t think I have even blogged about it and perhaps it’s because I was so frustrated with the decision. At first look, it seemed the Constitutional Court had passed the buck to congress by determining that it was indeed constitutional to define marriage as that between “a man and a woman” and ordering congress to address the legal vacuum facing same-sex partners within two years. But it later emerged that the court had determined for the first time ever that a same-sex partnership should indeed be recognized as a family unit deserving of the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

Afraid that the ruling had left a window wide open, conservative legislators rushed to introduce bills to ban any legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, upon which the President of the Constitutional Court spoke up and clarified that the ruling indeed meant that any measure banning recognition of same-sex partnership rights would be unconstitutional. He said that the Court had ordered congress to find a way to extend legal protections to same-sex couples within two years, not to seek ways to ignore or ban them, and that if congress failed to act within that period, same-sex couples were in their right to formalize their relationship by simply registering their partnerships at notaries.

Some Colombian LGBT advocates have called it a complete triumph. They don’t expect a conservative-leaning congress to ever come to terms with granting legal rights to same-sex partners and argue that this means marriage for same-sex couples two years from now. As the pessimist I have always been, I worry that the two year window will allow congress to find a way to create some sort of legal definition granting limited rights to same-sex couples that falls way short or marriage equality and, even if they don’t, that marriage equality will not necessarily be the end result when two years have gone and there hasn’t been any congressional resolution. It’s a mess of a decision and puts the decision on our rights in the hands of legislators who will work their best to grant us something less than equality.

*Tengo un crush con Nuevallorrrr was‘s original name.