The Oaxacan marriage lawsuit now pending before the Mexican Supreme Court wasn’t the result of years of careful legal planning. It began with a couple who wanted to get married and a law student who thought he could win in court despite warnings from LGBT activists to drop the case.
The law student, who is now pursuing advanced study in Mexico City, is Alex Alí Méndez Díaz. He told me the story of the case in a coffee shop just off the Zócalo in Oaxaca City the day after the Supreme Court was supposed to have ruled. The court had put off the case for at least another week, so he was still on edge.
Méndez was working as part of the Frente Oaxaqueño por el Respeto y el Reconocimiento de la Diversidad Sexual, an LGBT activist collective, to plan a pride march in 2011 when he met a gay couple from Etla who wanted to get married. The Mexican Supreme Court had recently ruled that marriages performed under Mexico City’s 2010 gay marriage ordinance must be recognized nationwide.
“The debate [over gay marriage] was very fresh,” Méndez said. “So these guys said to me, ‘We want to get married but we don’t want to leave to get married in [Mexico City]. Can we get married here in Oaxaca?’”
Méndez started his research online, downloading the decision in the Mexico City case. “I went to download the sentence from the internet and … the document seemed to me extraordinary” in opening the door to marriage rights in every state in Mexico. As he read it, the court said that the right to family protections included in the Mexican constitution “does not refer only to a family of a father, a mother, and children, but also to whatever other form of family.”
He brought the idea of suing to allow the couple, Alejandro and Guillermo, to marry to the Frente Oaxaqueño:
It’s funny, because they said Oaxaca wasn’t ready for those discussions, there would have to be a public debate…. No. This seemed very strange to me…. So I said, ‘Fine, if the collective won’t do this as a collective, well, I’m the only lawyer [in the group]. I’ll do it.”
After beginning work on Alejandro and Guillermo’s case, he started looking to include other couples because it would be just as much work to file multiple lawsuits as it would be to just file a single one.
Méndez explained, “We had an event on Facebook and said, ‘Who wants to get married?’”
In the end, Méndez filed two suits in August of 2011 and another one the following spring. He lost two of them, but won the third in favor of a lesbian couple named Lizeth and Montserrat.
The appeal of this case—brought by the Oaxacan governor and legislature—was the one the court was supposed to decide last Wednesday. But it had already scheduled a ruling in a second of the cases for December 5, and Méndez is hopeful the court is planning to combine the rulings. That could mean an even more sweeping decision, because in the Mexican system the court must rule in two cases that a law is unconstitutional before it can be struck completely from the books.
Méndez says that although he’s gotten help from a handful of other LGBT rights lawyers, he hasn’t gotten a lot of support from the gay rights advocates based in Mexico City.
The problem is that … in [Mexico City] they think that they’ve already won marriage … so there is nothing more to do, and they think [Mexico City] is all of Mexico…. There isn’t a movement on a national level.
Méndez, who is now debating whether to stay on in Mexico City or return to Oaxaca to be a human rights lawyer, said he can’t believe where this case has taken him.
“When I started this work with these guys, I didn’t imagine where it was going to end up, what implications it was going to have…. Now I look at it, and [say], “Wow.”