Same-sex marriage is legal in Baja California. Sort of.
To get married in the state, gay and lesbian couples are legally required to overcome costly and lengthy legal obstacles that heterosexual couples never face.
The process involves applying for a marriage license, getting rejected by a local clerk and filing an injunction with a federal court. Ultimately, it costs 10 times more than what heterosexual couples pay and lasts four times longer, said lawyer Jose Luis Marquez, who represented the first gay couple to marry in Baja California and continues to help same-sex couples file injunctions.
“That is discrimination,” said Marquez.
But that may soon change because of a set of reforms introduced to the state Congress by Miriam Cano, a representative from Ensenada who was an activist before becoming a lawmaker.
On Nov. 14, Cano introduced two reform bills that would eliminate the injunction process by changing both the state constitution and civil code.
“With these reforms, members of the gay community would not have to go through separate processes,” said Rebecca Vega, a lawyer who works in Cano’s office. “Right now, the way the laws are written, they face discrimination because they have to go through a different process to receive the same public services as heterosexual couples.”
The reforms include changing language in the state constitution, which currently states that marriage is between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation.
Vega added that she expects the reforms to be voted on before the end of the calendar year and expects them to pass.
However, there will probably be resistance from Baja California’s religious conservative coalition, which is a powerful force in state politics.
At a recent public forum on same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues, conservatives who oppose the reforms briefly disrupted speakers by arguing that the forums were one-sided because all of the invited speakers support same-sex marriage.
The conservatives took issue with remarks made by Marquez, the lawyer, which they said made fun of the fears that conservatives previously used to argue against gay marriage.
Marquez noted that before the first gay couple got married, people told him that gay marriage would lead to men having sex in public and that people would want to marry their pets.
“None of that ever materialized,” Marquez told about 50 attendants at the forum. “Men are not having sex in the streets, especially not married men.”
Luis Vasquez took exception. “We demand respect; you should be tolerant of our views,” said Vasquez, who believes two men should not be allowed to marry because they cannot procreate.
Vasquez, who said he is not intolerant because he has gay friends, repeated a conservative phrase used to defend traditional marriage: “matrimonio es de matriz” a play on words that translates to “marriage is from the womb,” meaning the purpose of marriage is to have children.
One day after the forum, Mexicali’s Bishop José Isidro Guerrero Macías led a protest against the proposed reforms.
The bishop gathered with roughly 60 demonstrators pressuring state representatives not to support Cano’s reforms. Guerrero Macías delivered a brief message in support of traditional family and the “beauty” of being raised by a one father and one mother, according to local news reports.
Assuming the reforms are approved by the state Congress, they would go to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Last week, Gov. Jaime Bonilla told a gaggle of reporters that he would support the reforms.
“I believe that everyone is the owner of their rights and bodies,” he said. “I am very respectful of that, and, yes, I would approve.”
Same-sex marriage has been technically legal in Mexico since 2015, when the Mexican Supreme Court issued a ruling that gave same-sex couples the right to seek an injunction against state laws banning their marriages.
Several Mexican states, including Quintana Roo, Coahuila and Chihuahua, as well as Mexico City, have formally legalized same-sex marriage without needing to get an injunction, according to the Pew Research Center.
Since becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in Baja California in 2015, Victor Fernando Urias Amparo and Victor Manuel Aguirre Espinoza set up a fund to cover part of the legal costs of filing injunctions.
So far, they have helped more than 50 couples get married over the last few years, including many who would not have been able to afford their marriage without money from the fund.
More recently, with the help of Marquez, the couple has organized collective injunctions of more than 10 couples to help reduce the costs.
Aguirre Espinosa said it is important for members of the LGBTQ community to fight for their rights so that others do not have to in the future.
During the forum, he told the audience a story about thinking that he would never get married because it wasn’t meant for him.
“From when we are born and realize we are gay, from that moment, we are made to fell less-than,” he said. “Society begins to treat us like second-class citizens in small ways that we don’t realize.”
The married couple is now trying to adopt a child, a process that is technically legal but has lasted more than two years because of obstacles and delays.
Usually, it takes heterosexual couples nine months to complete the same process, Marquez said.
Solis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.