Did Chiapas Just Legalize Gay Marriage?

Jim Burroway

May 26th, 2016

Mexico Map

Note: Sonora (cross-hatched) had it briefly, but it’s back on hold for now.

Political and judicial processes in Mexico can be pretty inscrutable sometimes. And the political realities of Chiapas adds yet a layer of complexity way beyond what you find in the rest of Mexico. Add to that, this report itself is quite a challenge to my clearly-non-native-speaking Spanish skills (I can still mostly read it, but I can no longer hear it or speak it fluently) and to Google Translate. So let’s give it a try with what I do know. To begin with, let’s get up to speed with what has been going on in the southern state of Chiapas (and also Puebla). Take it away, Rex:

When any law is passed in Mexico and takes effect, there is a 30-day window for specific governmental entities to challenge that law with an “action of unconstitutionality” filed with the full Supreme Court. What Jalisco did is change the legal age for marriage and, in the process, in one sentence of the revised law, it mentioned that marriage is man-woman. This qualified that man-woman language as a “new” law that could be challenged during the 30 days after it took effect. The National Human Rights Commission filed an action of unconstitutionality against the language and the SCJN struck down Jalisco’s ban on same-sex marriage in a unanimous ruling with immediate effect.

The states of Chiapas and Puebla also recently altered their marriage laws — again not specifically having to do with marriage being between a man and a woman — and made the same “mistake” (or perhaps deliberate decision) that Jalisco did. They mentioned in the revised law that marriage is man-woman. Lawsuits were quickly filed with the Supreme Court and are pending.

Given recent Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) rulings, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that it will strike down the newly-revised marriage laws in Chiapas and Puebla as it did in Jalisco.

With everybody able to see the writing on the wall, there has been considerable rumblings in Chiapas that they want to get on the right side of things before the SCJN acts. This article quotes Maria Mendoza, a representative of the indigenous United Chiapas party and president of the State Congress’s Equity and Gender Commission, as giving assurances that an initiative to reform the state constitution and a final draft of changes to to its civil laws will be presented to the legislature “to guarantee legal unions between persons of the same sex.” Citing forthcoming SCJN rulings and President Enrique Peña Nieto’s initiative to reform the federal constitution to legalize same-sex marriage, Mendoza added that the commission was working to gain consensus with other groups in Chiapas, but that in the end “we must comply with a mandate from the Supreme Court.”

This article gets a bit more specific about what the Equity and Gender Commission planned to propose: “By proposing reforms to articles 144 and 145 of the Civil Code, the Legislature would modify the definition of marriage so that is is not a contract celebrated exclusively between a man and a woman, but between two people, independent of gender.” The article goes on the state that this initiative would allow Chiapas to avoid a Supreme Court mandate to change the code in response to the pending “action of unconstitutionality.”

Then there’s this article, the main thrust of which discusses the local Catholic bishop’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Towards the end, it confirms that the Equity and Gender Commission is working to get the marriage equality legislation approved “before the federal reform.”

So we know that something is in the works, which brings me back to that very first confusing article. The title is clear: “(Chiapas) Congress Approves Amendments to the Law For Equal Marriage”. The report goes something like this:

“With 33 votes in favor, Tuesday the LXVI Legislature approved, in general and particular, the dictamen presented by the Equity and Gender Commission on the initiative decree for reforming and adding various implementations to enable the celebration of marriage equality in Chiapas.”

What is a dictamen? Some dictionaries render it as an authoritative report (i.e. expert witness report), and others describe it as a legal opinion, a ruling or a verdict. And so if the legislature adopts the dictamen in a roll-call vote, does that mean that it also adopted the dictamen’s proposals to reform the Civil Code?

Misael Zeñay, writing for the Oye Chiapas website, seems to think so, adding that “the vote was made very quickly, with seven deputies not in attendance, and with the support of the remaining 33 in attendance voting in favor.”

So based on this single report, it looks like this is a done deal. My only problem right now is that this, so far, is the only report that I’ve been able to find in the Mexican media saying that Chiapas legalized same-sex marriage. There may be good reasons for this. The debate and vote was very quick, as Oye Chiapas reported. The session was moved up four hours due to a threat of violent protests which would prevent lawmakers from leaving Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state’s capital. Those protests also incentivised the legislature to hurry up and get out of there, taking just twelve minutes to dispense with all three items on its agenda.

chiapas-marchaUndoubtedly some of those protests (one of which the next day involved the brief abduction of the state Congress’s president and another deputy) overshadowed anything else happening in the state. I can find all kinds of news articles about a massive teacher’s protest that broke out in Tuxtla Gutierrez blocking the main highways and paralyzing the city. Also, a mayor of Chenalhó was forced to resign — that protest led to those abductions I mentioned earlier. And if that weren’t enough, four pregnant women in Chiapas were confirmed to have been infected with the Zika virus.

So there’s a lot going on in Chiapas, and their news media, like ours, can only handle so many big stories at a time. But still — only one published story two days after the deed was done? I don’t know. It looks like something happened, but it looks like we will have to wait and see to know for sure.

Len Shelton

June 25th, 2016

Holy Cow…….reading this article has certainly made me feel a little better about the way in which the USA Congress operates. Its a shame, but I suppose it is normal human behavior. ☺️Signed Embarrassed Human

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