Since Mexico became the first Latin American country to allow states to legalize same-sex marriage seven years ago, the country has grappled with backlash from Christian groups that has activists worried further progress will stagnate or existing legislation will be repealed.
The historic ruling in 2009 legalized gay marriage in the capital of Mexico City, and nine of the country’s 31 states have since followed suit. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that restricting marriage to heterosexuals was discriminatory, which gave same-sex couples the right to seek a court injunction against state laws banning gay marriage.
The ruling did not automatically invalidate each state’s prohibition, but was celebrated as a major step in that direction.
But as the legal rights for same-sex couples becomes more widespread, an organized backlash is emerging to counteract it. The movement, known as the National Front for the Family, emerged in May after President Enrique Peña Nieto introduced an initiative to legalize marriage equality nationwide, allow all couples to adopt children and to include positive portrayals of the LGBTQ community in school materials.
The movement against marriage equality appears well-funded and has the backing of politicians across the political spectrum, according to the Guardian. It has convened more than 100 marches nationwide under the slogan: “Don’t mess with my kids.”
Activists now fear the movement could garner enough traction to slow further reforms or even roll back some that have been enacted. The consequences, they say, aren’t just legal: Mexico’s LGBT community faces blatant discrimination and violence, with some organizations reporting that at least 26 people from the LGBT community were killed in hate crimes this year.
“The issue of marriage equality should be treated as an issue of human rights,” María Fernanda López, a sociologist and LGBTQ activist in Querétaro, told the Guardian. “But it is often reduced to a question of political will.”
Although Mexico is currently the only country to have legalized same-sex marriage only within certain parts of the country, it is far from the only country facing backlash.
Attacks on lesbian women in South Africa‚ for example‚ have tainted the reputation of the country that was one of the first to legalize gay marriage. In response, South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development recently released a draft bill that criminalizes hate crimes, including those relating to homosexuality.
Brazil, which recognized same-sex marriage in 2013, has a reputation for sexual tolerance yet is notorious for having one of the world’s highest rates of LGBT hate crimes. Human rights groups reported 326 murders in the LGBT community in 2014.
Still, progress on a global scale has been relatively fast and widespread. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage in 2001; since then, nearly two dozen countries have passed national legislation to allow same-sex marriage, mostly in Europe and the Americas. In April this year, Colombia became the fourth country in Catholic-majority South America to legalize same-sex marriage, following Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
Today, 1 billion of the world’s people live in a place where same-sex marriage is legal.