Tensions over LGBT rights have been increasing in Mexico over the past two months, with Catholic bishops there taking a strong stand against marriage equality. The debate in that nation has elicited some strident rhetoric from both sides, with strong charges of persecution by their opponents from each side. And, Catholic bishops have received the endorsement of a powerful Catholic voice in their anti-marriage equality campaign: Pope Francis.
The rhetoric of persecution has now enjoined the bishops in a battle about the much-disproven field of reparative therapy, which the bishops have endorsed.
Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred), a governmental agency, recently denounced reparative or “ex-gay” therapy, responding to an article in Catholic media titled “No one is born gay.”
The country’s bishops reacted negatively to Conapred’s denunciation, reported Pink News. Fr. Hugo Valdemar, a spokesperson for the bishops, said:
“There is persecution against the Church. . .It is something very serious, the state now determines the sexual behavior of citizens and forbids any attempt to return to normalcy.
“The state prohibits parents from helping their children to solve their sexual doubts and prohibits homosexuals from changing, but if they want to change their sex they fund that atrocity, it’s something diabolic.”
Valdemar said there would be a “gay dictatorship” soon under which people who disagree with LGBT rights would be imprisoned.
Debates over LGBT rights have intensified in recent weeks after President Enrique Peña Nieto said in May that he would push Congress to pass marriage equality, adoption rights for same-gender partners, non-discrimination protections, and allowances for people to self-identify their gender on official documents. Just ten of Mexico’s 31 states do not have bans on same-gender marriages in place. Peña Nieto’s federal effort seeks to override such bans, and implement LGBT protections universally.
However, LGBT advocates have challenged the president’s commitment, suggesting that his announcement in May might have caused more harm then good. After Peña Nieto’s party suffered losses in June elections, LGBT issues have been sidelined by parrty leaders. But his announcement did stir intense opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and other groups opposed to LGBT rights.
The anti-equality group National Front for the Family has organized dozens of rallies across Mexico, according to Animal Politico. Reports from ABC News said about 215,000 people turned out for anti-marriage equality rallies this past weekend, following up on earlier protests on September 10th. The National Front is primarily supported by the Catholic hierarchy in Mexico with key bishops offering their support in an August 12th letter.
Fr. Valdemar attempted to withdraw such direct support by the bishops later in August, saying moral support for the marches offered by church leaders was in favor of marriage and family, not opposed to any specific legislation or community of people. Church leaders have led marches or rallies in at least eleven states between the September 10th and September 24th demonstrations.
Following the September 10th rallies, TeleSur reported that Conapred released a statement implicitly critical of the bishops’ involvement, saying the denial of equal marriage rights is “an affront to [gay couples] dignity and their integrity.” The statement said further:
” ‘Encouraging discrimination against people because of their sexual and gender orientation or status, as well as trying to exclude families that do not replicate the traditional nuclear model, through expressions and speeches that may incite hatred and violence, as has happened in recent months, violates the human rights of all people.’ “
Pro-equality organizations have organized their own rallies, including one on September 11th which ended at the cathedral in Mexico City. There the National Pride Front of Mexico, an umbrella group for 70 LGBT organizations, launched a campaign calling for the removal of the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera. Spokesperson Patria Jimenez explained the Front was appealing to Pope Francis because, TeleSur reported:
” ‘We want to stop the speeches of violence. We respect freedom of expression and we have open arms. The Church says that it preaches love for your neighbor, but today we see that it promotes hatred.’ “
Rhetoric about marriage equality LGBT rights has been heated and hyperbolic from both sides. Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancun said he would “go to prison to defend the family” where he said “some charitable soul would go to visit me, especially in this year of mercy.”
On the other side, La Jornada reported a national strategy put forth by the group Equality Mexico to file discrimination complaints against the Catholic Church in multiple regions. For instance, LGBT coalition Red Positiva filed a discrimination complaint with Conapred against Bishop Elizondo. Crux reported:
“The complaint filed also claimed the bishop was opposing article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which dictates that religious ministers can’t oppose the law nor call the faithful to do so in any public event or religious ceremony.”
Victor Aguirre Espinoza and Fernando Urias Samparo, the first same-gender couple to marry in the state of Mexicali, filed a complaint against the Catholic Church with the governor there. They claim church leaders have violated Article 8 of the Law of Religious Associations, which the plaintiffs allege means religious organizations cannot intervene in politics and must the respect human rights of all people, reported La Voz de La Frontera.
Elsewhere, two LGBT groups filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Tijuana, specifically alleging that Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón had incited hate speech. Equality Mexico filed a complaint against the Archdiocese of Mexico City with the Ministry of the Interior. Complaints are expected in Chihuahua, Yucatán, Hidalgo, and Sinaloa as well.
Finally, Crux reported that Pope Francis offered support for Mexico’s bishops following the Angelus yesterday, saying
” ‘I join willingly the Bishops of Mexico in supporting the efforts of the Church and civil society in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide.’ “
Francis has refrained from entering debates about legal protections for same-gender couples in many countries, including the United States and Italy. But he involved himself when LGBT issues were being debated in Slovakia and Slovenia. This bifurcated response is puzzling.
Mexico is the world’s second largest Catholic nation with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80% of the population, identifying as Catholic. But opinions are equally divided on marriage equality. 40% of Mexicans support equal rights, 40% oppose them, and 10% have no opinion per polling in early September, reported Vanguardia.
When considering what is happening in the country on LGBT rights, one must be keep in mind that Mexico has a troubled and violent history between the church and secular government, including anti-clerical laws in the early 20th century which led to many churches being closed and the oppression and even murder of priests. While laws have changed and tensions lessened, the legacy of these decades lingers. Furthermore, church ministers are targeted today as part of the country’s drug-related violence.
These realities may cause prelates to make extreme claims like the church is being persecuted or suggestions they would be jailed. But church leaders should be more responsible in their rhetorical actions, instead of using hyperbolic and inflammatory terms like “gay dictatorship.” Actual violence in the past and today makes it especially troubling that church leaders and LGBT advocates have both used such charged language in this debate. Where the church should be a unifying force for the promotion and expansion of human rights for all people, including LGBT communities, it is instead acting as a source of unnecessary pain and conflict.
De-escalation from both sides would be advisable, as it would likely allow dialogue to replace divisive tactics. Dialogue could produce laws which are respectful of every person’s dignity and the rights of religious institutions. Such laws would ultimately advance the common good, and that is the cause to which all sides should ultimately commit themselves.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry