In honor of the International Day Against Homophobia, Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto held a roundtable discussion with leaders of Mexican LGBT rights groups. And what he had to say was big. He not only spoke out against LGBT discrimination, but also pledged to bring marriage equality nationwide, announcing that he had signed initiatives that propose same-sex marriage be written into the Mexico's constitution and federal civil code. If Mexico were to legalize marriage equality nationwide, gay couples across North America would have the freedom to marry, all the way from the Arctic Circle down to the Tropics.
Not counting Central America or the Caribbean nations, this could be considered a continent-wide achievement. More than 474 million people live in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Nowhere else on earth are so many people covered by marriage equality legislation in one geographic area. The residents of these NAFTA countries would no longer just share a free trade agreement, but laws recognizing same-sex marriage. To offer a comparison, just under half of the European Union's 508 million inhabitants enjoy such status.
Same-sex couples can marry already in Mexico. The country's supreme ruled last year that it was unconstitutional for Mexican states to ban same-sex marriage. In practice, though, states were not required to rewrite their laws, and individual couples have to sue in order to be granted marriage licenses, except in Mexico City's federal district (where the practice has been legal since 2009), and a few other states that realized the laws didn't address the matter. Largely, though, it has been in flux, and a federal law would put an end to all argument.
The president's party, the PRI, has long been socially conservative, but Peña Nieto spoke out anyway, saying the measures he propose would establish "a human right that people may marry without any discrimination." He accompanied his talk with tweets. In one, he announced his marriage equality initiatives, and in another, he said, "For an inclusive Mexico that recognizes in diversity, one of its greatest strengths. #WithoutHomophobia."
Mexico joining the gay marriage party would certainly cement North America as one of the best regions legally to be gay, but South America is not far behind. Following a ruling in Colombia in April, the continent's three most populous countries have all established marriage equality. In 2010, Argentina was the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, and a Brazilian court did the same last year.
The trend is certain to continue. Millennials around the world approve of marriage equality by large margins. This includes Mexico, where about 70 percent of the population between 12 and 30 years of age think people should be able to marry whomever they want. With Peña Nieto's help, they shouldn't have to wait much longer.