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In Mexico's liberal capital, an uproar over gay marriage

Conservative politicians are keeping quiet, but the Catholic Church is up in arms.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the foremost Catholic cleric in Mexico, has made several harsh attacks against a new law allowing gay marriage in Mexico City. Rivera is pictured here attending a mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Sept. 21, 2006. (Tomas Bravo/Reuters)

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Inside Mexico City’s spectacular metropolitan cathedral, Cardinal Norberto Rivera conducted his last Sunday Mass of the year to packed benches.

But rather than focusing on the goodwill of the holiday season, Rivera’s sermon centered on what he said was a new affront to the nation’s Roman Catholic values: gay marriage.

Calling the unions “perverse” and an “aberration,” the prelate called on his flock to fight against a new law allowing gay marriage in Mexico City — the first of its kind in Latin America.

“This perverse example cannot spread. It is necessary to constitutionally defend the family,” Rivera said in his characteristic deep booming voice. The law “is unjust, inadmissible and condemnable.”

A wave of social liberalization has transformed the Mexican capital in recent years, but the gay marriage act has ignited a far more negative reaction than other reform measures. The law, which was approved by Mexico City’s assembly on Dec. 21 and signed into law Tuesday, also allows gay couples to adopt children.

The comments by Rivera — the foremost Catholic cleric in Mexico — are part of a series of harsh attacks and calls to action against the act.

Mexico’s College of Catholic Lawyers on Monday went even further than Rivera, calling on the faithful to try to stop gay marriages in the city.

“We need a pacific resistance so that no [gay] couple marries in this capital and the definition of marriage does not change from its natural meaning,” said college president Armando Martinez. 

In the neighboring city of Ecatepec, Bishop Onesimo Cespeda was more blunt, simply saying that the idea of gay marriage was “stupidity.”

The clash between the church and state over the issue highlights the broader culture wars being fought south of Rio Grande.

Mexico has long been influenced by a conservative Roman Catholic hierarchy and almost 90 percent of the population purport to the faith.

But the nation has also borne an influential leftist tradition since the days of the Mexican Revolution at the dawn of the 20th century.

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) has controlled Mexico City since 1997, and passed a wave of other reforms, making the capital into what advocates say is a beacon of social progressiveness.

The changes have been possible because of Mexico's federal system, which gives the capital's assembly the power to pass local laws.