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Mexico's President Proposes Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide

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Same-sex marriage is already legal in some parts of Mexico, including Mexico City. The country's president wants to make it the law nationwide. That takes an amendment to the constitution which he called for yesterday. But in a country where 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, he's still got a tough sell. Or does he? NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: No surprise Mexico's Catholic Church opposes President Enrique Pena Nieto's proposal. In a statement issued today, the country's bishop said a union of two people of the same sex cannot be equated with the marriage of a man and a woman. It urged lawmakers to study carefully the effects of same sex unions on society.

So can President Pena Nieto rally support for same-sex marriage without approval of the Catholic Church? Without hesitation, anthropologist and religious scholar Elio Masferrer Kan says si.

ELIO MASFERRER KAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Mexico's Catholic Church is much weaker now," he says. It lost a lot of its credibility to several public financial debacles and the global priest child abuse scandals. Recent studies show that while 80 percent of Mexicans say they're Catholic, only about 15 to 20 percent attend church regularly. Masferrer says Mexicans are perceived as conservative and are up to a point.

MASFERRER: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "That doesn't mean they don't divorce or that they aren't conscious and protective of their gay and lesbian relatives," says Masferrer. President Pena Nieto still has legislative hurdles to cross before same-sex marriage is recognized in every Mexican state. He needs two-thirds of the Congress to approve any amendment to the constitution - probably not too difficult since his party and close allies control nearly half the seats and leftist lawmakers already back same-sex marriage.

Then Pena Nieto has to win over a majority of the state legislatures. That could be trickier, especially in Mexico's so-called Bible Belt - a large swath of states in the middle of the country. But Alejandra Haas, President of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, says she's confident lawmakers will do what she says is the right thing.

ALEJANDRA HAAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Even if there is resistance by sectors of society because of religious beliefs, she says the state must protect the rights of all its citizens. Yesterday Mexico's president said as much. He hosted her along with other proponents of same-sex marriage in the official residence and posted the rainbow flag on his Twitter feed. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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