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Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal in Mexico, Now Society Must Catch Up

06/22/2015 02:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Earlier this month, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that states that did not allow same-sex couples to marry violated the Mexican Constitution. While this does not mean all states must now legalize gay marriage, it does set a jurisprudential precedent. Any gay couple denied marriage in their home state may now seek an injunction from a judge, who will in turn be obliged to grant it. For all intents and purposes, same-sex couples can now get married anywhere in Mexico.

Reading U.S. media, you would think that the change came about in slow, but perfectly unopposed baby steps. News outlets are calling it a quiet marriage revolution, an uneventful process without much fanfare. And this is partly true. The Court's ruling was issued so plainly and swiftly that many in the country barely knew about it... and that is precisely the problem. Mexico's battle for marriage equality has been fought predominantly in the courts; courts located in Mexico City, the nation's liberal, progressive mecca. The rest of the country has remained largely uninvolved in the marriage debate. Same-sex couples may now be able to marry nationwide, but that does not change the way that society treats its queers, particularly in the overwhelmingly conservative community that exists outside of the capital.

I still vividly remember the day that Mexico City legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, a first in Latin America. Though there were no protests or shows of solidarity in my own city of Tampico, I often overheard adults stating that this made sense. Characterizing defeños (Mexico City natives) as ultra-progressive and excessively liberal, it was only natural that they allowed los gays to marry within their own boundaries. But that surely would not ever happen out in provincia -- the provinces -- as defeños like to call anywhere that isn't Mexico City. God forbid such a thing.

At the time, I had yet to meet a single openly gay person. Even as years went on and a few friends felt comfortable enough to come out to me, it became glaringly obvious that there was no space for queer folks to gather and meet each other. A former teacher of mine, a visiting lecturer from Seattle and to this date the only openly lesbian woman I met in Tampico, once remarked to me how, much as she loved teaching there, she couldn't envision herself staying for too long. "At some point," she would laugh "I want to meet someone. And there's no way to meet anyone here- there is no gay scene."

Let me be clear, Tampico, while by no means a giant city, is the second largest port in Mexico, and the most populated metropolitan area in the state of Tamaulipas. Roughly the size of Boston, there are most certainly a lot of queer people in the city, but the social stigma associated with being queer is such that being out and proud proves a challenge. Gays and lesbians may now be able to marry in Mexico, but this achieves little if it is not coupled with a broader cultural reform of attitudes towards queerness.

I do not want to diminish the importance of the Court's' decision, and I am certainly heartened by the leaps in people's attitudes towards queerness in recent years. When I asked my friends back home whether they had heard that same-sex marriage was now technically legal across all of Mexico, the reaction was varied, but not negative. "Well, duh, didn't you read that New York Times article?" said a couple. Another surprised me by letting me know that two women had married last week in my own small and relatively conservative hometown of Tampico, Tamaulipas, and that no one had really cared. Several were even confused: "I mean, hasn't gay marriage been legal since like 2009?" These responses, simple and matter-of-fact, are nothing short of radical.

But however much progress has been made, Mexico is still a country where the word "homo" and its derivative slurs are used as insults, and no one seems to mind. It is still a country where progressives will say they support gay marriage, to each their own, but they'll be damned if a homosexual couple is allowed to adopt children, because God forbid they corrupt the kid. It is still a country where the majority of queer people are afraid to come out, and where many are kicked out of their houses for doing so. It is now, in short, a country where gay people can get married, but where they will have a hard time finding a partner that is out and proud enough to marry them.

I am happy that we have legalized same-sex marriage. But, as social activists have been touting for years, same-sex marriage does little to address the larger issues that affect the queer community. And unlike in the U.S., where marriage equality has been a heavily-publicized, country-wide battle, rife with discussion and changing social attitudes, Mexico's path towards the legalization of same-sex marriage has been an insular one, fought predominantly by activists who found an ally in the country's most liberal Court. Mexico's lack of reaction to the Court's decision isn't so much an expression of support, as it is a simple lack of engagement with the issue. Hopefully, now that same-sex marriage is a nationwide reality, it will open the doors for a much-needed discussion. Gay Mexicans have achieved formal equality, now society must catch up to this new reality.