Sunday, June 23, 2013

How Did Latin America Become More Gay Friendly Than the USA?

This blog has noted a number of times that it is somewhat mind boggling that a number of nations in South America have become more accepting of gay rights and gay marriage than the United States of America, the alleged "land of liberty" and home of "religious freedom" for all, which in fact puts the religious views of conservative Christians ahead of the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  A piece in the New York Times pointed out to me by a blog reader in The Netherlands looks at this surprising twist of circumstance which one can only hope will change with the rulings of the Supreme Court this week. Here are some article excepts:

How can we reconcile these developments with the stereotype of Latin culture as a bastion of religiosity and machismo? How is it that the continent the Catholic Church looks to as its future (along with Africa) is home to what is said to be the largest gay-pride celebration in the world, in São Paulo, Brazil? 

The church’s presence in Latin America is undeniable, but its influence on social policy is nothing like that of conservative Christian evangelicals in the United States, nor have the rising numbers of Pentecostals been obsessed with homosexuality like their conservative counterparts up north. Mexico, for instance, has long emphasized separation between church and state and recognizes only civil marriage that is, clerics can officiate at weddings, but are not empowered to legally marry couples.

Political history is another factor. Since the 1970s, protest movements helped end military dictatorships or long periods of one-party rule; this democratic opening empowered left or center-left governments that have strongly emphasized human rights and individual freedom.

The recent expansion of same-sex marriage rights has come about in part through alliances of left-of-center legislative majorities with progressive executives, like Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of Mexico City, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina and President José Mujica of Uruguay. In addition, as in the United States, judges have played an important role in advancing the cause of gay equality, as evidenced this week in Brazil, where the National Council of Justice, which oversees the judiciary, ruled that notary publics may not refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. 

So to understand why the politics changed, we must also look to society. .  .  .  .  In the 1990s, I interviewed dozens of Mexicans, straight and gay, in Guadalajara, the country’s second largest city. They spoke about how they wanted their lives to differ from their parents’.  .  .   .  .  This desire for individual autonomy — which in some ways lagged behind the sexual revolution in the United States — extended to gay and lesbian people.

Mexican media, which reaches even remote rural hamlets, features telenovelas that portray homosexuality in frank (if melodramatic) terms and talk shows where tolerance is a sign of cosmopolitan modernity. 

These developments not only undermine stereotypes about machismo, but also the assumption that the prominence of Catholicism makes progressive change impossible. Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and Ireland recognizes civil unions. As the United States Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage, perhaps it should consider the precedent set by other nations of the Western Hemisphere.
Should the Supreme Court fail to rule broadly for gay marriage, to me it will be yet further proof that the image that America seeks to project to the rest of the world is a lie and a farce.  As long as ignorance and bigotry based religious beliefs are allowed to trump the Constitution's guaranty of equality for all Americans, hypocrisy will be the main attribute of the USA.  It does not practice what it preaches.  Why should African nations and Islamic nations listen to America on gays rights issues when America itself still allows widespread discrimination and legal inequality?  Virginia is a prime example of this hypocrisy.

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