US Behind Mexico on Marriage Equality

Federal courts in Mexico and Costa Rica rule in favor of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people while Proposition 8 remains in tack in California.

When James Tilley walked into a San Francisco nightclub, he hadn’t yet realized that his life would change forever. Amidst the dim lights and loud music, he noticed José Jiménez.

“We locked eyes that night and have been attached at the hip ever since,” said James.

Their courtship was quick, and in a matter of months they knew that they were meant for each other. However, their marriage plans were stalled when Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that took away the right for same-sex couples to marry in California, passed in November 2008.

“We talked about marriage but waited, we didn’t think Prop. 8 would pass,” said James.

Last month was particularly emotionally exhausting for same-sex couples looking to get married. On August 4, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 and deemed the right to marry as a fundamental right enshrined by the constitution. Less than two weeks later, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a stay on Judge Walker’s decision.

“I was hurt. I was so excited about being able to finally marry José,” said James.

James and José had chosen August 21 as their wedding date. Their tuxedoes, rings, and the venue were ready and many of their friends and family had already booked their flights. Yet to their dismay, they must now wait at least until December 6, when the appeals court will begin hearing arguments on Judge Walker’s ruling, before being able to get legally married.

The situation for same-sex couples wanting to get married is not murky in the rest of the continent as it is in the US. Last month, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that all 31 of Mexico’s states are legally obligated recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in the nation’s capital. In Costa Rica, the nation’s top court blocked a referendum that would potentially make the right for same-sex couples to marry illegal. Voters in Costa Rica were set to vote on the referendum in the country’s December 5 elections.

Throughout the continent courts are following trends that point to an increase in support for the right to marry. Recent polls in California have shown support of 50 percent or more, up from 42 percent in 2009. More importantly, a survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute points out that 57 percent of Catholic Latinos, a group that was perceived to be in support of Prop 8, would vote in favor marriage rights for same-sex couples if they were given the opportunity again.

“My mom is really Catholic, and even though she is very religious she is still very loving and supportive,” said José. “Because she loves me, she also loves James.”

The bond between James and José grew stronger back in 2008 during the Proposition 8 campaign.

LGBT groups and organizations remain hopeful about the eventual outcome of the federal Prop 8 court challenge as it continues making its way through the court systems until potentially reaching the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation.

“Our efforts to win marriage back will continue,” said Mario Guerrero, Government Affairs Director for Equality California, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization. “Our fight does not end inside the courtroom, but instead, we also have to win in the court of public opinion. We need to continue talking to our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers about the importance of supporting the freedom to marry. We will also continue working on electing officials that support LGBT rights and full equality for all.”

For the time being, same-sex couples will have to continue waiting until Proposition 8 is stripped from California law or another ballot initiative restores the right for same-sex couples to marry.

“Even though we can’t get married now, hopefully we can soon,” continued James. “This decision has brought us closer. Because of this decision I have had so much support from co-workers that I didn’t even know their stance on marriage. We are still moving forward with our plans, they are just postponed. We are hoping to be able to get married during the summer.”

By Nikholas Méndez