A unanimous ruling by the Mexican Supreme Court overturning a state law against same-sex marriage has opened the way for the eventual legalization of gay marriage across Mexico, legal experts say.
The court ruled unconstitutional a law in southern Oaxaca state that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. The decision came in favor of three gay couples who sued Oaxaca state on grounds the law violated the principle of equal treatment for all citizens.
Still, there won't be any quick changes.
Under Mexican law, two more cases from Oaxaca must be decided in the same way before a precedent is established allowing gay marriage – and only in that state. For each of Mexico's 30 other states, five separate cases would have to be decided that way to establish precedent for gay marriage.
Currently, the only place in Mexico where same-sex marriage is legal is Mexico City, where a same-sex marriage law was enacted in 2010.
Experts say the Oaxaca ruling puts gay couples in the state a step closer to being able to get legally married.
"They are rulings that will favor the recognition and nondiscriminatory access to marriage," said Miguel Rabago Dorbecker, a law professor at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City.
The decision issued this week was well received by the Mexican LGBT community that still hopes to achieve the same rights as heterosexual couples.
"This makes it possible for the new generations of gays to see some hope that Mexico will recognize their rights, and that they can one day live their sexuality openly," said Jaime Lopez, president of a gay civil association.
Lopez and his partner were one of the four gay couples who were the first to marry in Mexico City in March 2010.
"This ruling makes it possible for people to file similar lawsuits throughout the country," Lopez said.
Lopez, however, pointed out that despite being married, he and his partner still lack a lot of the rights held by heterosexual couples, including social security.
The court said its decision applies only in the case of the three couples in Oaxaca but it indicted that its effects might be expanded throughout Mexico, although not in the short term because each of Mexico's states and the capital district has its own, individual civil code.
Gerardo Rojas, a 43-year-old photographer, said having the right to get married in Oaxaca could help people understand gays should have the same rights as everybody else.
"Within our community there will be people who won't want to get married, but there are also people who are conscious of their role in society and will want to formalize their relationships through marriage," Rojas said.