Will the world’s second largest Catholic country boldly advance LGBT rights? This is the question being asked after Mexico’s president announced a new rainbow political agenda in late May.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said he would ask Congress to legalize marriage equality, non-discrimination protections for same-gender couples seeking to adopt, and the ability for people to self-identify their gender on government records.
These moves are significant and somewhat unexpected from a president whose popularity has waned. Mexicans are split over LGBT issues, though legal rights have progressed slowly through state legislatures and the courts. Last year, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled state marriage equality bans unconstitutional which makes the president’s announcement more a symbolic gesture, but a welcome one, say some pundits. On the adoption item, Fusion explained the background to the president’s move:
“[LGBT lawyer Jose Antonio] Caballero says the issue with same-sex adoptions is slightly more complicated. The president’s initiative doesn’t necessarily grant same-sex couples the right to adopt children, but states no institution can discriminate against homosexuals by excluding them from the adoption process.”
Whether or not Peña Nieto’s push will be successful is unclear. However, the tone of the debate around this rainbow agenda may be revealing how Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia is being practically employed by Mexican church leaders.
The Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) criticized President Peña Nieto’s initiative, but their statement which heavily quoted Amoris Laetitia, struck a different tone than expected resistance from Catholic bishops. The Conference stated, in part:
“We are sure that in the plurality that characterizes our nation, all voices must be heard with seriousness and spirit of constructive dialogue, with full respect for the institutions. . .We take this opportunity to remind our willingness to serve in building a better society in which nobody feels discriminated against and alone.”
While clearly defending an exclusively heterosexual understanding of marriage, the CEM statement affirmed the need to “ensure a respectful accompaniment” for those people with different sexual orientations and recognized “the great variety of family situations they can provide some stability” even if not analogous to marriage.
Individual bishops and dioceses offered their own statements, too, emphasizing different elements of the communal statement. Fr. Hugo Valdemar, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, suggested the president should attend to “more serious issues” but still encouraged legislators to follow their consciences if a vote occurs. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de Las Casas said opposing marriage equality is not homophobic, and he respects people of divergent sexual orientations “whether by choice and personal taste, or by consequences of childhood and environment.” Cardinal Alberto Suárez Inda of Morelia said the church must oppose attacks on the family, even recalling the need for conscientious objection spoken about recently by Pope Francis. He previously had said children are traumatized if not raised by a mother and a father.
What all this reveals is the absence of a clear idea about how Amoris Laetitia should relate to complicated questions of public policy. It also shows that Pope Francis is impacting the Mexican church which he visited earlier this year. Church leaders can employ the pope equally in their calls for greater respect of LGBT people, for legislators to follow their consciences, or for marriage equality to be condemned and for homosexuality to be misunderstood.
In short, despite the CEM statement being reported as a denunciation, the bishops collectively prioritized respect for LGBT people in their response and countered only with the idea that same-gender unions cannot be equated to marriage. While imperfect, this is progress that will hopefully spread.
The president’s new agenda is being hailed as a significant political step in this heavily Catholic nation. Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University said President Peña Nieto’s advocacy is “just of monumental significance” and continued, according to the Associated Press:
” ‘It really is symbolic of the rapidly waning, eroding influence of the Catholic Church on both politics and the social front. . .This, in tandem with Colombia, which is still close to about 80 percent Catholic and is usually kind of looked to as the most devout Catholic nation in Latin America. . .it’s amazing.’ “
Four states in Mexico, as well as Mexico City, recognize same-gender marriages. If marriage equality is nationally recognized, Mexico would become the fifth Latin American nation to do so, and the 24th globally.
With over 100 million Catholics, or 90%+ of the population, a rainbow flag waved in victory over Mexico would be quite a victory for the Catholic Church, too!
To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of LGBT Catholic issues in Mexico, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry