Following the heels of Ireland, the judiciary in another pious Catholic country, Mexico, legalised same-sex marriages in June 2015 by opining that “the purpose of matrimony is not procreation”, and that insisting on marriage only between women and men is “discriminatory in its mere expression.” Such a stunning verdict challenging biblical core tenets hardly met any resistance from Mexican society that was until a decade ago awash in homophobia.
While Mexico did not use Ireland’s ballot box method to equalise heterosexual and homosexual weddings, the former’s Supreme Court’s landmark ruling was backed by social understandings about love and relationships that have changed sharply in a short duration. Opinion polls conducted in July 2013 had confirmed that a simple majority of 52 per cent Mexicans supported same sex marriages, which was a drastic 13 per cent increase in approval compared to polls held in 2012. Rarely in history do we see such quick and decisive swings in society over profound questions like the shape and composition of family, which is the bedrock institution around which people construct community and nation.
Mexico’s entrenched machismo culture, which privileges men to be dominant, independent and assertive, while women have to be submissive and dependent, had long been a hurdle for acceptance of marginalised and persecuted homosexuals. The hyper-masculine emphasis on “acting like a man” and controlling women, which has roots in colonial European ideology, clashed head-on with the equation in gay couples, where one of the males acts “like a woman” and is effeminate in nature.
Insecurity about slipping male domination comprised the essence of Mexico’s long record of violence and abuse of gays. The male-led Catholic Church cultivated this anxiety and fear by harping about how children can have a healthy upbringing only if they have a “paternal figure and a maternal figure” in charge. By extension, the man must be the head of the family and the woman and the offspring must obey him. Since such a dispensation would breakdown if there are same sex couples, the Church kept preaching to the faithful that gays are scum of the earth who deserve God’s punishment.
Apart from machismo and the Church, there was also a strong Right-wing political force— the National Action Party (PAN) — which aggressively campaigned for ostracising homosexuals. But after ruling from 2000 to 2012, PAN fell to third position in the 2012 presidential elections, weakening the homophobic coalition. The sensational child sex abuse scandals implicating the Mexican-led Legion of Christ movement of Catholics also hurt the anti-gay alliance’s credibility.
Social conservatives were thus exposed in the eyes of Mexican society as politically motivated hypocrites who were using homophobia in order to maximise their own power and wealth. Affirming the honour and human rights of homosexuals became a proxy for the Mexican masses and civil society organisations to rebel against their unjust establishment. It was part and parcel of revolutionary politics.
Interestingly, it was also a rediscovery of Mexico’s sidelined indigenous traditions of the Zapotec and Mayan tribes, which had liberal approaches towards homosexuals. The “modernity” which was ushered in through forcible European colonisation had blinded Mexicans to their own rich heritage from the ancient period, when minorities from the “third gender” as well as other forms of sexual expression had been deemed not only legitimate but also specially gifted and close to the gods.
From a longer historical standpoint, Mexico and other Catholic Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay— which have all legalised same sex marriage in a spree since 2010 — are affirming their pre-European ancestral traditions and rejecting artificial precepts that victimise queer people. The new “self” that Latinos are discovering today is not a victory of individualistic hedonism or a debauched Western import, as the Church in Latin America is alleging, but a return to native communitarian principles where lesbians and gays enjoyed designated and respectful positions.
From a global lens, the attitude change in favour of queer dignity in key Catholic countries is a popular rebuff from below of the Vatican bureaucracy and its hardliners. The moment the Irish people voted for same sex marriage, the Vatican’s top diplomat denounced it as a “saddening defeat for humanity”.
Yet, Pope Francis himself has stayed above this dirty politicking and influence peddling by his own apparatchiks. He has adopted a refreshingly humanistic line towards homosexuals. The Holy Father’s famous quip, “if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” has given hope and succour to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-sexual) community that has suffered at the hands of organised hatred and violence.
Compassionate cues from the Leftist Pope Francis have prodded progressives within the Catholic ranks to emerge and advocate for equality and dignity of homosexuals. For instance, the Archbishop of Dublin in the heart of most happening Ireland has argued that homophobes are “actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people (lesbians and gays).”
Revolutions and unanticipated changes happen when regime elites are split and the masses begin thinking for themselves instead of being herded like sheep. The rising inclusive current on sexual orientation in Catholic societies shows that change is not a matter of “whether” but “when”.
Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs. Image credit www.pridelife.com