By Mariana Martínez
Baja California has been brought forward into the national debate over gay marriage, after PAN Governor José Guadalupe Osuna Millán and his Jalisco counterpart decided to sue the Supreme Court claiming the same-sex unions legalized in Mexico City since March 4th are unconstitutional.
The new law approved in Mexico City taking effect as of last week, legalizes same sex unions as a valid marriage in the rest of Mexico, and opens the door for a series of changes in the laws governing healthcare benefits, home loans and adoption, as part of equal rights to same sex couples.
In complete opposite to the governors attitudes towards this new law, Tijuana has been rated as a “welcoming city with a “due as you please attitude” in the popular gay lifestyle website Anodis. Gay and Lesbian Times describes Tijuana even as a more tolerant city than San Diego, California; due to the fact that in San Diego, the gay community is confined into certain areas like Hillcrest, while Tijuana’s gay populations spreads out into all residential areas and nightclubs.
The cities tolerant attitude, —so far away from political moves—, is a result of a series of historical factors including a fast moving populations coming from all walks of life in Mexico; a geographical and ideological distance from the conservative south and a liberating influence from the gay movement in California.
For Media Relations Specialist Francisco Murillo, Tijuana offers a great advantage over smaller cities because it has such a vast variety of cultural offerings, allowing its residents to be exposed to different social values, something important in the way “out of the closet”.
“Other factors might include the many spaces of anonymity created in big cities, that includes the anonymity of a border” Murillo explains, “it helps by giving a fundamental safety-net that you can latter let go of, whenever you are ready”.
Murillo’s account of border life is consistent with the findings by Raúl Balbuena Bello PhD social researcher and professor at UABC Mexicali specializing in homosexual identity at the border.
For Balbuena, border cities have a complex web of relationships with their counterparts, and those interactions include sentimental, family, business relationships and gay people have been able to skillfully use the border to explore their identity.
“What I’ve found is that many [gay] people in Tijuana and Mexicali escape social constructs by traveling to San Diego or Los Angeles and taking advantage of what those cities offer; mainly in the form of sex, including bath houses, erotic book stores and cabins, sex shops…an offer you can’t find in their cities of origin and the community has little need for them because they have other ways to fill that void” he explains.
Buying power is another key factor allowing gays to enjoy a wide offer of entertainment and housing not specifically marketed towards a gay audience.
In the national website for rents called “Comparto Depa” there are around 295 offers under “gay” category just in Tijuana, and those include a thousand dollars rent for a shared apartment, way higher than the cities average rent.
“Im looking for a clean apartment with a great location, prefrebly in Zona Rio. I like to live well, I’m a hard working reliable person, willing to pay well for a great place to live” signed Israel, is just one of the many adds found in the site.
But the so called apparent openness in Tijuana might come to an end because of the new marriage law in Mexico City, because it might create a negative reaction from the rest of mostly- catholic country, when the married couples go to other states and make them uphold their union.
Gay activist and magazine editor Oscar Soto says the new law is a great triumph for the Mexican gay community, as a step towards equal rights.
“Not all the gay couples want to marry of course, and even less are those who want to adopt children” Soto states, “but the very fact it is a possibility, a recognized right, is a great leap both in the social and legal spheres”.
For Soto, it is key that gay couples can come to the limelight and openly say their partners are not only “friends”.
“There are many reasons why this is an important conquest; romantic reasons we all grew up with, even spiritually it is important to be bound to who you love”, he adds.
Soto explains that for many gay couples with a long history together, there are a series of practical questions that could benefit from their marriage; insurance benefits, health care costs, home loans and government pensions.
“I know of many cases where once a partner dies, one of the families takes over the partners right to inherit, many women have children from previous relationships and their partners have no right to claim them; those are issues affecting many people” Soto says.
But will the new marriage law in Mexico City spur a series of movements all across Mexico? Not likely, according to Balbuena, there isn’t enough social pressure in other places in Mexico, where gay people are comfortable in a state of relative anonymity.
Mexico City is different because of the strong pressure against the gay community during the HIV epidemic in the 1980’s, when there was a demonizing of homosexuality and blame for the HIV-Aids epidemic. But that pressure was not as strong in the rest of Mexico.
“While the gay community doesn’t become a political force there will be little pressure,” he explains, “when people organize and start claiming their rights, that apparent ‘openness’ will seize to be such, because when people start claiming their own citizenship and asking for those rights to be recognized the conflict will begin because of the clash against moral prejudice.”
Until now, at least 20 same-sex couples have obtained a marriage license and are expected to be married in the next few weeks. It will be only after that the true fight will begin, as these couples ask to be recognized by authorities across the country, including their right to adopt, a true test of Mexican society and its courts.