Zaldívar also wrote that it would also be contrary to the principles of the 1954 school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education to restrict same-sex couples to civil unions or domestic partnerships while barring them from marriage.
The ruling had been anticipated since the court announced
December 5, 2012, that it would order the state of Oaxaca to recognize the marriages of the three same-sex couples that had filed suit. But the court waited to spell out its justification for this decision in a written ruling for two-and-a-half months, suggesting there may have been disagreement about just how broadly it should make the case for marriage equality. The couples' lawyer, Alex Alí Méndez Díaz
, told BuzzFeed the opinion was posted on the court's site Monday.
The court broke important ground in the ruling by invoking another precedent from international law, a ruling handed down in 2012 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Karen Atala Riffo y Niños v. Chile. Most Latin American countries recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, which is the legal arm of the Organization of American States. (The United States and Canada do not submit to the court's jurisdiction.)
Karen Atala was a Chilean mother who was denied custody of her children during divorce proceedings with her ex-husband because she is a lesbian. The Inter-American Court said the Chilean courts violated Atala's human rights and for the first time said that gays and lesbians were protected from discrimination under international law, declaring that the American Convention on Human Rights, "prohibits … any rule, act, or discriminatory practice based on sexual orientation."
A trio of same-sex couples from Chile have already started proceedings
in the Inter-American justice system claiming that the Atala precedent means that international law should also protect the right to marry. If they succeed, it could open the door to marriage rights throughout Latin America for same-sex couples.
The Mexican marriage case was the first test in any Latin American court of whether the decision in Atala's case can be applied to marriage rights. The court held that it could, writing that Atala requires the rejection of "a regime of separate-but-equal marriage."
Hunter Carter, a lawyer for the Chilean couples suing to marry in the Inter-American Court, told BuzzFeed, "This opinion is a huge win for marriage rights for same sex couples in the Americas."
Despite its breadth, this ruling will have only a small immediate impact in Mexico.
Technicalities of the country's
legal system mean that only the three couples who brought this case will be able to marry right away. Mexico City is still the only jurisdiction inside Mexico where marriage between same-sex couples is fully legal; several more lawsuits will have to be brought before that right is available nationwide.
Unlike in the United States, it takes more than one ruling from Mexico's Supreme Court to strike down a law—the court must rule the same way in five separate cases before a law falls. This ruling concerns three separate cases; it will take two more for any same-sex couple in Oaxaca to be able to wed easily, and then the process may have to be repeated in other states. But this precedent means this is a procedural issue, not a legal
For the lawyer who brought this suit, Méndez, the verdict is still a big win.
"Without a doubt, we have made history … in Mexico. The next step is to extend this experience to other parts of the country," he said.
J. Lester Feder is a 2013 Alicia Patterson Fellow.