Despite Setbacks, Advocates Press On For Marriage Equality In Sonora, Mexico

By Murphy Woodhouse
Published: Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 8:14am

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Sonoran Gay Marriage
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Dozens of supporters of the reform measure showed up to the hearing where it was first introduced in August 2019. The sign in the center reads, "Love is love."

As with much business these days, the Sonoran Congress’ joint committee hearing on a reform of the state’s family code was conducted remotely in late September. That came with all the standard technical difficulties and digital awkwardness.

“Colleagues, I want to ask you to please open your screens, because we can’t see you,” said María Alicia Gaytán, head of the gender equality committee.

It was a vain attempt, but eventually the hearing got underway.

“The family code as it currently stands is unconstitutional, deputies,” said Deputy Yumiko Palomarez, the measure’s sponsor. “What we have to do is make it constitutional, adhere to the law and not differentiate between first- and second-class Sonorans.” 

In a 2015 ruling, Mexico’s Supreme Court determined that state codes like Sonora’s, which defines marriage as the “legitimate union between a man and a woman,” are unconstitutional.

But the measure faced stiff opposition, with a few deputies sharing anxieties about the prospect of same-sex couples adopting children.

“That’s why it’s very important that the union between people of the same sex not be called marriage,” said Deputy Jesus Montes. “So that it doesn’t create that possibility, for the high risk and vulnerability that we’d abandon them to.”

Advocates forcefully rejected claims about potential harm to such adopted children, with one saying there is no serious, scientific proof to back them up.

During the hearing, other opponents said there isn’t popular support for the measure, though national polling shows widespread acceptance in Sonora.

Nearly 70% of Sonorans are accepting of same-sex marriage, one of the highest rates in the country, according to a 2017 report. Roughly 53% also support same-sex couples adopting, the country’s highest rate, according to the same report.

The measure needed seven votes to make it out of committee. It got six. One deputy, who Palomarez expected a yes vote from, did not respond when called on to vote.

Monica Lopez and Andrea Salazar
Monica Lopez and Andrea Salazar
Andrea Salazar (right) shows off her ring after Monica Lopez proposed to her on the beach in Kino Bay in 2016. They married the next year in Tucson.

Sonoran Proposal, Arizona Wedding

Tucson couple Monica Lopez and Andrea Salazar met as young students in Hermosillo. Their paths parted when Salazar and her family moved to Tucson, but crossed again in Mexico City two decades later. Friendship became romance, and eventually a proposal on Sonora’s famous Kino Bay, a story they shared in a video of pro-reform testimonies released before the committee vote.

“It was me who decided to take the step and propose to Andrea,” Lopez said in the video.

“On the beach,” Salazar interjected. “Very cool.”

But they decided to have their 2017 wedding in Tucson, where they and some family lived, and where Sonoran loved ones could travel fairly easily, according to Salazar. It had also been possible for them to marry there since 2014.

“We would have loved to also do a civil ceremony in Sonora,” Lopez said. “Because the majority of our friends, some are in Hermosillo, the majority are in Mexico. It would have been easier for them to travel there. But above all, we wanted to get married on the beach in Kino.”

While they don’t want to have to jump through the additional legal hoops, she said they haven’t dismissed the idea, hoping the situation eventually changes in Sonora.

Since the 2015 Mexican Supreme Court ruling, same sex couples have been able to get married in Sonora, but only after they’ve gone through a court process that advocates say can be lengthy and costly. Nearly 70 couples have done so since then, according to information provided by the state’s civil registry.

“Disappointing, but not very surprising,” Salazar said about the congressional joint committee vote.

But she thinks that all opponents have done is delay its inevitable approval. And both said they’ll continue to work to ensure that same-sex Sonoran couples can one day do what they did: marry like anybody else.

“We’re part of a marginalized community, and we have a responsibility to that community,” Salazar said. “Because alone we’re not strong, but in the community we represent a stronger voice.”

Monica Lopez and Andrea Salazar
Monica Lopez and Andrea Salazar
Andrea Salazar (left) puts a ring on Monica Lopez's finger during their 2017 wedding ceremony in Tucson.

Wasted Moment

“Yes, it truly surprised me a lot,” said Deputy María Dolores Del Río, who voted for the reform. She thought it had the necessary support, but thinks several deputies may have been swayed during discussion.

Palomarez, its sponsor, told KJZZ after the vote that she’d like to simply present it again.

But Del Rio said there had been a window of opportunity, but she doesn’t “see the energy now.”

“It was a moment that was wasted, unfortunately,” she added.

And she doesn’t see another window opening until September 2021, when the next state legislature begins its work. That would be more than two years after Palomarez first presented her measure.

Deputy Montes, an opponent of the measure, declined a phone interview, but did say that the state congress has no obligation to do anything until there is a federal constitutional change.

‘Not Giving Up’

But the pressure isn’t going away.

“We’re not giving up,” said Elsa Cornejo, coordinator with Diverciudad, part of a coalition that has been pushing for marriage equality in Sonora.

She said what comes next is asking the joint committee that heard the measure to form a working group. That might not mean the initiative comes back for a hearing soon, but it could increase awareness among the deputies.

They’ll also continue working to educate fellow Sonorans about being LGBT in the state. Part of that will be sharing more stories like Lopez’s and Salazar’s.

“That’s the most direct way to reach someone who thinks they don’t know any LGBT people, and therefore has prejudices,” she said.

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