By Vanessa Hornedo, Hispanic Link News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 8 –The Supreme Court’s recent decision to not hear five states’ appeals that challenge same-sex marriage, coinciding with the majority of states now accepting the rapid social change, leaves the nation’s 54-million Hispanics trying to determine where their cultural heritage fits in.
“Hispanics have been lagging a couple of steps behind and this will move our community to be more embracing,” Armando Vázquez-Ramos, professor of Chicano and Latino Studies at California State University, tells Hispanic Link News Service. “We have to go beyond the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church relative to same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian communities in Latino families because it’s not typically accepted.”
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center National Survey, 55 percent of Latinos identify as Catholic – a faith which denounces marriage between two people of the same gender.
Bishop Richard Malone, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, chairman of the USCCB’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, responded in a joint statement released Oct. 6, “This is a time when marriage needs to be strengthened, not redefined.”
They prefaced, “Globally, we are at a time of recognizing the decisive importance of marriage and the family when it comes to addressing challenges of poverty and serving the good of all.”
Pope Francis has stated, “If someone is gay who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?… The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.”
Old ways, new ways
For the millions of Latinos who follow the faith and rituals they were raised with, the issue has become a generational one, with the younger generations being more open to changes in the traditional definition of marriage.
One of the major struggles for Hispanics is their cultural heritage, which most often means religion but not necessarily Catholicism, explains Arnold Torres, national Latino policy consultant now based in Sacramento, Calif. As Hispanics continue to shift away from Catholicism and its ritualistic themes, traditions change. That’s why, he explains, more people are accepting of the restructuring of marriage laws.
Impact of partner benefits
This new definition opens doors for same-sex couples. They can now realize the legal benefits of the life they’ve established together. These include filing joint tax returns, receiving inheritance benefits and enrolling in family healthcare plans.
“Even after the Affordable Care Act, many people are still struggling to access healthcare,” Daniel Leyva, senior director for prevention and education with the Latino Commission on Aids, tells Hispanic Link. “Those benefits should resonate with the Latino community because many who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender or questioning are Latinos.”
Leyva says marriage equality will finally put an end to some issues, particularly when a partner dies of HIV or AIDS.
“People who lived together, bought a house together, lost everything because of the lack of marriage equality. A lot of people were taken advantage of by the families of the deceased who took everything even though curiously the family originally rejected them because of their lifestyle,” Leyva says. “Marriage equality prevents that kind of situation. The legal system is going to help them live in peace and with dignity.”
Edgardo Guerrero, 47, of Washington, D.C., felt the effects of a court ruling on marriage equality firsthand when his partner was facing deportation after they had lived together seven years.
“The Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage changed my life and that of many gay and lesbian Latinos living in the U.S.,” says Guerrero. “Pedro’s visa expired and he had to return to his native Panama or stay in the U.S. without legal documents.”
They were able to wed last year and Guerrero was able to apply to change his husband’s immigration status.
The non-decision allows lower court rulings to stand in Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin, bringing the number of accepting states to 24 plus the District of Columbia. Six more states within those circuits – North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wyoming, Kansas and Colorado – are bound by the same decisions which allow same-sex marriage, essentially giving same-sex couples the rights and protections of marriage in three-fifths of the country.
“Family matters just as much to LGBT Latinos as it does to the larger Latino community, and building strong families is still the best way to build strong communities,” emails Martín Diego García of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club in the capital.
“Same-sex couples and their kids in many more states will enjoy the legal protections that come with civil marriage, but it also means the love and commitment they share will be more easily recognized by their communities.”