(New York) - Two landmark rulings on same-sex marriage were issued last week - a US district court struck down Proposition 8's ban on gay marriage in California, and Mexico's Supreme Court recognized the right to same-sex marriages in Mexico City. Both rulings uphold the core principle of equality for same-sex partners in all aspects of their lives, including family life.
In California, a federal court said that society has moved away from a time when different genders played different and distinct roles in marriage and in their communities. As a result, society has moved toward marriage as an institution that is "free from state-mandated gender roles."
"The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household," read Judge Vaughn R. Walker's decision. Regardless of their gender, spouses have an obligation to each other and their children, the decision read.
California first legalized marriage for gay couples in May 2008, and more than 18,000 lesbian and gay couples married in California in the following months. Proposition 8, a state referendum that narrowly passed in November, withdrew the right to marry from gay and lesbian couples and put those existing marriages at risk.
"Proposition 8 denies people the equal protection of the laws, a fundamental human right," said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program. "Judge Walker's exhaustive legal analysis showed that Proposition 8 was based on fear and prejudice for which there was no legitimate state interest."
The case is being appealed and will likely reach the US Supreme Court.
In the Mexico case, the Supreme Court upheld a law that Mexico City's legislators passed in December, 2009, allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Mexico's highest court voted 8-2 in favor of the same-sex marriage provision.
Later this week, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether same-sex marriages formed in Mexico City will be recognized across the country and whether same-sex couples can legally adopt children.
The decision followed a legal challenge to Mexico City's law.
On the issue of same-sex adoption, Human Rights Watch said that all couples should be allowed to exercise their right under international law to form families. Human Rights Watch has urged Mexico to guarantee equality for same-sex couples and to recognize the existence of various types of families.
Currently, same-sex marriages are legal in ten countries - the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, and Argentina.
The California and Mexico decisions demonstrate the important role courts can play in protecting everyone's right to equal protection and to be fee from discrimination under the law. Ultimately, however, it will be up to the government to ensure that these rights are respected both in policy and practice.