Content warning: this article contains references to sexual abuse, assault and rape.

In late October 2022, two laggard Mexican states finally brought their laws into line with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling declaring bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. This made Mexico the 32nd country in the world to recognise same-sex marriage. Civil society is pushing for further vital legal change, including to ban so-called ‘conversion therapies’ and recognise the right to identity of trans people. But while changes to laws are essential to realising rights, the struggle also continues to ensure effective implementation and break down the prejudices underlying the denial of rights, the discrimination and the violence LGBTQI+ people continue to face.

On the night of 26 October, a tense legislative session took place in the north-eastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. From the public galleries, activists for and against the law under discussion chanted and shouted so loudly that legislators had to move to another room to finish the debate and cast their votes.

The final count was 23 in favour and 12 against, with two abstentions.

When the results came out, LGTBQI+ rights activists erupted in celebration, not just in Tamaulipas but across Mexico. The bill that had just been passed amended article 132 of the state’s Civil Code to establish ‘being of legal age’ as the sole requirement for marriage.

This made Tamaulipas the last of Mexico’s 32 states to legalise same-sex marriage and Mexico the 32nd country in the world to extend the right of civil marriage to all people.

Similar legislation had been passed in the state of Guerrero the previous day, with 38 votes in favour and six against. The states of Mexico and Tabasco had done this earlier in the month, while three other states – Durango, Veracruz and Yucatan – had done so earlier in 2022.

It all came together after more than two decades of sustained struggle.


Mexico City, the pioneer

In 2001, when the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage, the realm of the possible suddenly expanded. In April that year, the first bill to recognise cohabitation relationships in Mexico was submitted to the legislature of the Mexico City federal district.

Although it didn’t go as far as seeking to change marriage laws, the initiative caused a great deal of controversy. Conservative groups such as the National Pro-Life Committee and the National Parents’ Union strongly rejected the move as an attack on the foundations of society and an attempt to ‘disguise’ same-sex marriage under another name, and eventually allow adoption by same-sex couples.

The proposal was repeatedly delayed and eventually defeated, but a new attempt resulted in Mexico City’s 2006 Cohabitation Partnership Law, which recognised unions between two people of the same sex through an agreement that stopped short of granting social security rights and the parental rights of same-sex couples. The agreement didn’t change the civil status of those involved, who officially remained single.

This changed when a new Cohabitation Partnership Law was passed in 2017 – but by then, entering a cohabitation partnership was just another option available to anybody, and not the only possibility for same-sex couples. A 2009 amendment to Mexico City’s Civil Code had already recognised the right to marry for all people.

To advocate for legal change, a civil society coalition – the United Society for the right to same-sex marriage – was formed that included hundreds of Mexican civil society organisations alongside international allies such as Amnesty International and the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

The 2009 amendment passed by the local Legislative Assembly redefined marriage as a free union between two people, with no specification of the sex or gender of the partners. Same-sex couples were granted the same rights as heterosexual couples, including to adoption, joint bank accounts and credit, and inheritance and insurance rights.

Anti-rights backlash

The homophobic and transphobic reactions brought by the debate over Mexico City’s equal marriage law invariably resurfaced every time the issue was debated in any Mexican state over the following decade. Anti-rights groups unleashed barrages of disinformation and prejudice, and when these failed to stop legal changes, they often switched to trying to undermine their implementation or have them repealed.

Voices from the frontline

Erika Venadero is a sexual diversity human rights activist in the state of Jalisco and a member of the National Network of Diverse Youth (RNJD), a coalition of LGBTQI+ youth rights groups from across Mexico.


Every time LGBTQI+-related news comes out, the response is an avalanche of diversophobic comments. Our very nature makes some people uncomfortable. All our lives we have been forced to live under heterosexual norms, so we have faced anti-rights expressions for as long as we can remember.

During the recent process to change the law we have faced an intense anti-rights campaign. Not only do anti-rights groups insult and attack us, they also denounce our publications on social media and have sometimes managed to have them removed. We activists suffer constant personal attacks and our social media accounts are frequently blocked. In my case, for instance, an anti-rights group once attacked me so much and reported my profile so many times that Facebook took it down. It’s really hard to understand what it is that bothers them so much.

Lots of people express hatred towards us. Many keep close watch of everything we do and every single thing we upload, both on the RNJD page and on our personal accounts.

Clearly people already know who we are and what we do. The network is extremely active and visible in social, political and cultural spheres. We have had very tense internal discussions about the double-edge sword of visibility. Our work has made us visible to both those who hate us and those who are willing to get information, learn about our work, understand what we are about and eventually support us. I prefer to focus on those who come to us for information rather than those who throw their hatred at us.

To confront anti-rights movements and hate speech, our strategy is to generate alternative narratives. We even use humour to disarm their arguments. For instance, we suggest that they love the traditional heterosexual family so much that they feel like having two of those – a reference to infidelities and what is colloquially known in Mexico as the ‘big house’ and the ‘small house’. These response mechanisms have helped us provoke dialogue.


This is an edited extract of our conversation with Erika. Read the full interview here.

As soon as same-sex marriage was legalised in Mexico City, the Attorney General’s Office appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the city’s Legislative Assembly lacked jurisdiction to legislate on marriage. The lawsuit was supported by the conservative National Action Party, the leadership of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Bar Association. They argued that the legal changes undermined the constitutional principle of ‘protection of the family’ and violated the state’s duty to safeguard children’s best interests.

The Supreme Court ruled that Mexico City’s legislative body had jurisdiction and the change was constitutional. In two additional rulings, the Court also found that marriages celebrated in Mexico City should be recognised in all Mexican states, and upheld adoption rights enshrined in local law.

The 2015 breakthrough

Over the next few years, only a couple of states followed Mexico City’s path. In states that didn’t recognise this right, same-sex couples started filing legal suits when their requests for marriage licences were turned down. Several appeals progressed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the petitioners, allowing them to get married in their states.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution focused on reproduction were unconstitutional. It declared that the purpose of marriage was the protection of the family in a more widely understood sense, and no rule could restrict a person’s rights on the basis of their sexual orientation.

This made same-sex marriage technically legal in all of Mexico – but in the absence of further legal change at the level of Mexico’s states to adapt civil codes to the Supreme Court’s ruling, state registry officials and judges continued to deny people access to this right, forcing same-sex couples to keep having to sue to have their rights recognised.

Civil society continued its strategy of using strategic litigation to force state-by-state advances. Slowly, states started modifying their laws to bring them into line with the Supreme Court ruling. But LGBTQI+ campaigners still experienced bitter anti-rights backlash every time. Adoption rights were particularly contested. Most states eventually recognised these – but 10 have not.

Changes were most often introduced through legislation, but a few states used other means, including judicial rulings, executive decrees and constitutional amendments. By October 2022 only two stragglers remained: Guerrero and Tamaulipas.

Remaining challenges

While a key step forward, the legalisation of same-sex marriage across all of Mexico is far from mission accomplished for the LGBTQI+ movement. Many current state-level laws are inadequate and still need to be revised – including to ensure adoption rights, protect lesbian and gay families and recognise non-binary identities and the right to identity for transgender people. Ultimately, rules on marriage and associated rights will only be fully harmonised when they become part of the Federal Civil Code.

Further much-needed legal change is currently in the making: in October 2022, the Mexican Senate passed a bill to criminalise so-called ‘conversion therapies’ – which, under the pretence of changing sexual orientation or gender identity, submit LGBTQI+ people to practices akin to torture, including depriving them of their freedom, medicating them against their will, applying electroshocks and sexually abusing them. The ban still needs to be passed by the House of Deputies – parliament’s lower chamber – to become law.

Even as laws are changed, anti-rights reaction can be expected to continue, as it connects to deeply rooted social prejudice. Mexico scores 74 out of 100 points on Equaldex’s Equality Index, which ranks countries according to their LGBTQI+-friendliness. The score measures both legal status and public attitudes.

On the legal component, Mexico gets 92 points, but it only scores 57 on the public opinion index. The message is clear: changing laws and policies isn’t enough. Social attitudes lag behind, and much more work is needed to challenge prejudice and violence against LGBTQI+ people.

Legal change does not bring instant social change. Hence the importance of continuing to focus on cultural change. Laws can change very quickly, and they do change overnight, but culture does not.


Each milestone, including same-sex marriage, is a battle won – but the fight goes on, and will only be won when everyone, everywhere has the same rights, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Civil society still has much work to do in Mexico, but by joining the ongoing global wave of expanding rights, the country has shown that change is not only necessary but also possible, even in difficult contexts, sending a message of optimism to the world.


  • Mexican LGBTQI+ groups and broader civil society should keep up their public campaigning to shift views on LGBTQI+ people and their rights.
  • Mexican LGBTQI+ groups should continue to push for trans rights and the protection of trans people from violence and discrimination as the next steps in their struggle for rights.
  • Mexican civil society should support campaigns to recognise same-sex marriage in other Latin American countries that are lagging behind.

Cover illustration by CIVICUS