Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that two anti-gay words commonly used in Mexico are hate speech and not protected as freedom of expression under the country’s constitution, allowing those offended by them to sue for moral damages.
The magistrates voted 3-2 late Wednesday in favor of a journalist from the central city of Puebla who in 2010 sued a reporter at a different newspaper who had written a column referring to him as "punal" and others at the plaintiff’s newspaper as "maricones." Both words roughly translate into "faggot."
The majority said the terms are offensive and discriminatory.
"Even though they are deeply rooted expressions in Mexican society, the fact is that the practices of the majority of society can’t validate the violations of basic right," their opinion said.
The resolution was praised by the Mexican gay and lesbian community and anti-discrimination activists as a step forward in the fight for equality in this conservative country rife with machismo. But others criticized it as ridiculous, saying many other words would have to be added, including some used to offend poor people in a society excessively concerned with social status.
"The historic resolution … marks the first precedent in the discussion of the limits of freedom of expression versus the right to non-discrimination," said the country’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination.
Alejandro Brito, director of Letter S, a gay rights group, said that the resolution will lead to a more respectful way of referring to gay people but that it falls short of having an impact on the mentality of anti-gay Mexicans.
"This will inhibit the use of the words in public forums and the media, and that’s very positive," Brito said. "But this doesn’t mean that the person who stops saying these words will stop being homophobic."
Gay rights have made some advances in Mexico, with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay couples adopting and requiring that same-sex marriages performed in Mexico City be recognized in the rest of the country.
Mexico City’s groundbreaking same-sex marriage law, enacted in 2010, extends to wedded gay couples the right to adopt children, to jointly apply for bank loans, to inherit wealth and to be covered by their spouses’ insurance policies. The capital’s annual gay pride parade draws tens of thousands of people, and in some neighborhoods gays openly hold hands.
But discrimination and violence against gay people remains a problem, despite campaigns against intolerance.
Violence against gays has increased over the past few years as more people go public about their sexual orientation, according to a report released by Brito’s group in 2010. Mexico City had the most killings of gay people in Mexico, with 144 between 1995 and 2009, according to the report.
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