Anyone looking for a primer on the fight for marriage equality in Mexico need not look further than Cristina Herrera Bórquez’s debut film Etiqueta no rigurosa (No Dress Code Required). The documentary follows Victor and Fernando, a gay couple living in Mexicali, Baja California and their decision to marry in their hometown. What would otherwise have been (and is for many straight people) a simple process: get a marriage license, file a date for the wedding, show up at City Hall on said date, and enjoy that day with your friends and family, quickly becomes a years-long endeavor.
Because the proceedings surrounding civil marriages are handled at the state legislature level, this case is emblematic of the fight for marriage equality in states and cities away from the more liberal and progressive areas in Mexico. That is why, despite the Mexican Supreme Court decisions that required all states to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in another state and which later deemed unconstitutional the Baja California ban on same-sex marriage, the Mexicali city government was able to find endless ways to delay and obstruct Victor and Fernando’s nuptials. It became, as the film points out, an issue of the city and state going against constitutional decisions that protected the couple at hand.
Bórquez offers audiences a front row seat to the aggravating and bureaucratic nightmare that this couple faced on their way to becoming the first same-sex couple to be married in Mexicali. With touching confessionals, heated encounters with city officials, and celebratory rallies supporting Victor and Fer, No Dress Required serves as a reminder of the many fights LGBT people around the world continue to fight for their rights with dignity.
Find below five quotes from the moving documentary that get at why Victor and Fernando’s small victory is a significant one for the Mexican LGBT community.
UPDATE 5/18/17: No Dress Code Required screens Tuesday, June 13 and Friday, June 16 in New York as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
“I knew I would get married one day.”
Bórquez’s film opens with a brief anecdote from Fernando’s childhood. As a little boy he’d role-played his own wedding, only he’d worn his sister’s first communion dress and carried a bouquet. “I knew I would get married one day,” he tells the camera, “But I should have worn a suit not a dress, right?” He can’t help but laugh at his own memory which keenly connects both his desire to participate in this ultra-conservative tradition while all the while acknowledging how different it already was in his eyes.
“I want people to say: Nothing breaks these guys, they are still in one piece.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, had you been in their place, you would probably have given up. The city of Mexicali and the many officers who hoped to couch their homophobia in petty bureaucratic quibbles, used every chance they got to block this impending marriage. Victor and Fernando suffered indignity after indignity: signatures on official documents were deemed fake, birth certificate inconsistencies were called into question, they were denied acknowledgment that they’d attended a mandatory pre-marital talk, they were even accused of suffering from dementia and thus unfit to be married. But that just made them more eager to show they wouldn’t back down. As Fernando puts it at one point, they need to keep fighting and showing everyone that “nothing breaks these guys.”
“You are destroying the family.”
Given Mexico’s staunchly traditional views on marriage, more pronounced as they are the further away you get from Mexico City, it’s no surprise the obstacles that Victor and Fernando had to overcome. And for every helpful and outspoken ally they met along the way, there’s an equal amount of people who were none too shy to express how, as one fellow lawyer told Jose Luis, this legal fight was “destroying the family.” In signs of protests, many Mexicali citizens voiced their contempt for this LGBT fight. That included then-governor of Baja California who made the “marriage is between a man and a woman” argument, saying that same-sex couples couldn’t “make life and start a family,” and then-mayor of Mexicali who’s seen in the film openly laughing at the absurdity of the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriages all over the country.
“Porque Baja California Somos Todos.”
Once the plight of Victor and Fernando began to be seen as an example of the homophobia that still runs through certain segments of Mexican society, it’s telling that the two men made a point of arguing for unity and respect. On the back of their activist t-shirts, for example, they had the line “Porque BC Somos Todos”: “Because Baja California is all of us.” Their message was one against legal discrimination. They knew there would be people opposed to their union but what all the asked was equal rights under the law, something they knew their case would set a precedent for.
“These people think that we are nothing.”
Just as with every other civil rights success story, Victor and Fernando’s eventual wedding — after close to two years of legal battles — was driven by the conviction of two ordinary citizens standing up to a government body. As they made clear to the mayor of Mexicali who had privately told them that he couldn’t believe what they’d accomplished with their plight, these triumphs are just another instance of citizens demanding their rights be validated.