Mexico to Vote on Gay Union Measures
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, we get to know the young Elvis Presley through the lens of a photographer who knew him before he was the King.
First, news from Mexico. The Mexico City assembly has approved the nation's first law allowing for same-sex civil unions. This is not gay marriage quite, but local activists say it is a very big deal in conservative Catholic Mexico.
Michael O'Boyle reports from Mexico City.
(Soundbite of shouting)
MICHAEL O'BOYLE: Since early in the morning, protesters lined up outside the capital city assembly. On one side of the police divide were religious and pro-family groups. Dressed in white, they carried signs that said no to the homosexual law. On the other side were scores of supporters waving rainbows flags and banners that said no to discrimination.
Ofear Gonzales(ph) was among the crowd against the proposed civil union law.
(Soundbite of Spanish language)
Mr. OFEAR GONZALES (Against civil union law): (Through translator) This is a first step that could open the door to allowing for gay marriage and adoption. We think this could destroy the base of society. We're not against the people who have different preferences, but we're against promoting it and sanctioning it under law.
O'BOYLE: On the other side is Juan Carlos Escandon(ph), who has been with his partner Jaime(ph) for 20 years. He says it's about time they get legal recognition.
Mr. JUAN CARLOS ESCANDON (For Civil Union Law): (Through translator) My partner and I are a solid couple. We aren't second class Mexicans. We pay taxes, we vote, and we work for Mexico.
O'BOYLE: Inside the city assembly, the scene was just as divided. Lawmakers from the conservative National Action Party - or PAN - attempted to postpone the vote. They withheld their implicit criticism of the right of same-sex couples to seek equal benefits. Instead, they argued that the law was misguided. They worried that it would create conflict with existing marriage laws. PAN Deputy Ezekiel Riftes(ph) led the call to postpone the vote.
Deputy EZEKIEL RIFTES (PAN): (Through translator) We aren't fleeing from debate. We're against passing a law that from day one is born dead, because of its inapplicability and for its lack of legal logic.
(Soundbite of applause)
O'BOYLE: The bill creates a new form of civil union that provides some of the same rights as married couples, but doesn't allow for adoption. Further federal reforms would be required to allow for the extension of public health and pension benefits. So it's separate and not quite equal.
While the debate dragged on for hours, the measure easily passed 43 to 17 to the cheers of yes, we could from supporters in the assembly balcony. The reason the bill has moved now is because of recent political changes in Mexico. The city assembly is dominated by the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.
Many, say the law could have been approved years ago by the leftist majority. However, then-mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was running for president and couldn't afford to alienate conservative parts of Mexico. But with the presidential elections now behind them, the leftist PRD made the civil union bill a top priority in the new assembly.
(Soundbite of chanting)
O'BOYLE: Outside the assembly, the protesters against the law had long gone home, but supporters were still there to celebrate. Hesel Dorantes(ph), a 25-year-old government worker, said she would be among the first to take advantage of the new law. The mayor's expected to sign the bill allowing for the first unions in early 2007.
Ms. HESEL DORANTES (Supports Civil Union Law): (Through translator) Even if this doesn't give all the rights of marriage; it's an important first step. From here we have to work harder to gain more rights and maybe someday we can take the step to allow for marriage.
O'BOYLE: Activists say there is still a long way to go. Alejandro Brito, the editor of Letra S - a monthly publication on AIDS and sexuality - says activists also want to see hate-crime legislation approved. He says despite advances, polls show discrimination against gays may be on the rise.
Mr. ALEJANDRO BRITO (Editor, Letra S): (Through translator) We have gained greater visibility. There are places in the city where we can express affection in public. But this, at the same time, has brought more attacks and greater rejection.
O'BOYLE: In Mexico City's gay ghetto in the Zona Rosa, there were celebrations last night in one of the nation's most cosmopolitan pockets. If the law is enacted by the mayor, Mexico City will join the ranks of Buenos Aires in Argentina and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil as the only places in Latin America to allow for same-sex civil union.
For NPR News, I'm Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City.
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