by David Agren
CUERNAVACA, Mexico (CNS) — Several thousand protesters marched peacefully in this city just south of Mexico City, voicing displeasure with a presidential proposal to enshrine same-sex marriage in the Mexican Constitution.
Signs at the march spoke of supporting traditional families — mother, father and children — and opposing sex education in schools. Promotional materials for the march said, “Don’t mess with my children.” The discourse among marchers also turned tough, especially when the topic touched on plans in the president’s proposal to portray diverse family units, including same-sex couples, in textbooks and educational materials.
“I don’t want this ideology to poison the mind of my daughter,” said Jaime Vargas, a truck driver and father of a preschool-age daughter. He called President Enrique Pena Nieto “an enemy of the homeland” for introducing the same-sex marriage legislation. “We’ll block the schoolhouse doors to stop this if we have to.”
The president’s proposal to expand the rights of same-sex couples and promote more positive portrayals of such families has set off a firestorm in conservative and some Catholic circles in Mexico, along with a backlash.
It also brought about rare cooperation among Catholics and evangelicals and moved religious-minded people into the political arena of a country where secularism was an ethos and politics and religions were kept separate. Hot-button social issues have seldom moved the masses in Mexico or been politically profitable, something organizers insist is changing.
“What happened [Sept. 10] has never been seen before,” said Rodrigo Ivan Cortes, spokesman for the National Front for the Family, which organized the marches. “It is absolutely unprecedented in Mexico [to have] more than 1.2 million people in street in favor of a citizen initiative and against a presidential initiative.”
Organizers plan a national protest march Sept. 24 in Mexico City as a show of strength, though critics consider it a risky proposition as the national capital, when compared to outlying areas, has consistently showed far more favorable attitudes toward social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. Both were legalized over the past decade by a Mexico City government at odds with the local archdiocese.
Pena Nieto proposed a measure in May to expand rights for same-sex couples, along with revising textbooks to include positive portrayals of gays and lesbians and nontraditional families. The Supreme Court has made same-sex marriage part of Mexican jurisprudence, meaning any couple can marry, but they might have to obtain an injunction to do so.
The president’s own party, however, has shelved his measure, saying the timing was not convenient, a rare show of internal opposition to Pena Nieto, whose approval rating barely reaches 20 percent.
“It shows that this issue isn’t politically profitable,” Cortes said, adding that polls show Mexicans placing the family above all other institutions on levels of importance and trust.
Polls also show a split on support for same-sex marriage, though the trend has been toward increased support. A telephone poll, which focuses more on urban areas, published Sept. 20 in the newspaper Reforma, found opinions split, with 45 percent supporting and opposing same-sex marriage, though 70 percent of respondents disagreed with gay couples adopting children.
The organizers’ claims of success and the marches themselves have come under attack from critics both inside and outside the church.
The Mexican bishops’ conference has endorsed the National Front for the Family, a lay movement that includes non-Catholics, and bishops in some cities joined in the marches.
Critics of the marches point to the lack of inclusion of those from nontraditional families, even though census data show just 40.7 percent of households are formed by heterosexual couples with children. The polls showing support for the family, meanwhile, reflect the realities of a country in which family is often a social safety net and do not necessarily show support for the traditional family, said Rodolfo Soriano-Nunez, a Catholic sociologist in Mexico City.
Critics also question the organizers’ march figures, saying official statistics in some cities such as Guadalajara showed far fewer participants than the numbers boasted by organizers.
Some in the church saw misplaced priorities as the bishops push an agenda of social issues such as same-sex marriage while treading cautiously on the thorny matters of crime and corruption, which might upset local officials.
“What amazes and saddens me is the fact that they chose this one, not any other issue, as the litmus-test kind of issue to mobilize,” said Soriano-Nunez.
Father Alejandro Solalinde, an activist for Central American migrants, told the newsweekly Proceso, “I have not seen marches [convened by the church] to protest corruption, impunity, the Donald Trump visit, nor [showing] solidarity with people harmed and suffering such as the disappeared, the kidnapped and murdered women. . . . The Catholic Church is in crisis because it follows the mania of judging . . . labeling and excluding.”
Others pointed out that Catholic leaders attending a conference of border bishops in Ciudad Juarez led a Sept. 3 memorial for popular singer Juan Gabriel — who was believed to be gay, though he never said it openly — while marching against same-sex marriage that same day.
“There’s a double discourse,” said Father Oscar Enriquez, director of the El Paso del Norte Human Rights Center in Ciudad Juarez, who has criticized the church for failing to consistently condemn crime or the authorities’ excesses while the city was suffering waves of drug cartel violence.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, which did not participate in the organization of the marches, but lent moral support, called the criticism unfounded, while insisting the church was correct to fight what it considered attacks on the family, instead of marching against crime and corruption.
“Attacking the family is much more serious than all of this,” said Father Hugo Valdemar, the archdiocesan spokesman. “To ask why the church is not convening marches to attack all these problems, this is an absurd vision that does not correspond with the mission of the church.”
Marchers in Cuernavaca, capital of a state plagued by insecurity, agreed.
“Wherever there is family,” Vargas said, “there’s peace.”