MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Five same-sex couples wed in Mexico on Thursday as Mexico City became the first Latin American city to defy religious taboos and macho stereotypes by legalizing gay marriage.
The head of Mexico City's civil registry married four couples in a simple ceremony on the patio of a colonial city hall to cheers and applause from family, friends and local politicians. A fifth couple arrived late for the event -- but were quickly married afterward.
The Mexico City law marks a victory for gay rights in Latin America after a string of advances in the region. Argentina and Uruguay allow same-sex unions, and Uruguay includes adoption rights, but the only previous gay wedding was conducted by an activist governor in Argentina without legal backing.
"From here to the party and to be happy," said David Gonzalez, wearing a red rose in his lapel. He has been with his new husband, Jaime Lopez, for the past decade.
The couples, who handed in their papers to get married as soon as the law took effect last week, are all activists pushing for gay rights in Mexico, which has the second-biggest Catholic population after Brazil and a largely conservative culture.
The legislature in the liberal bastion of Mexico City, which is dominated by the nation's biggest left-leaning party, passed gay marriage. But the law applies only in the capital district.
"We are putting a face on a reality that has been denied, silenced and hidden," said Lol Kin Castaneda, 33, an academic marrying her partner of more than six years, Judith Vazquez.
Gay marriage is the latest push by Mexico City's left-wing government, which has also made divorce easier, legalized early abortions and allowed the terminally ill to refuse treatment.
Mexico's churchmen have decried gay marriage, calling it a threat to the family, and conservative President Felipe Calderon has challenged the law before the Supreme Court.
There was no altar at Thursday's civil ceremony. Instead a bust of 19th century liberal President Benito Juarez held center stage. Juarez was Mexico's first, and only, indigenous president and led the fight to split church and state.
After the nuptials, city Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and other city officials hugged the couples, who kissed for TV crews.
But outside the venue, two dozen protesters held up signs denouncing gay marriage. "This is not a good image for our kids. A family is a man and a woman," said Terese Vasquez, 51.
The law goes beyond existing same-sex union legislation to grant the same marriage rights as for straight couples, such as shared bank loans and health benefits, and adopting children.
Yet implementing some aspects of the law will not be easy.
The director of Mexico's social security institute, which administers health care, said this week that current federal law would not allow shared benefits for same-sex couples.
"The battle to get our rights as a couple recognized is still ahead," said Temistocles Villanueva, a film student marrying Daniel Ramos who is studying medicine.
Mexico City is home to the most visible gay community in Mexico and couples freely express affection in many parts of the city. However, outside the capital discrimination and even violence against homosexuals is common, activists say.
City officials are confident the law could survive Calderon's challenge if the Supreme Court takes it up.
"They are not challenging a legislature; they are challenging history, and they will lose," said David Razu, the leftist lawmaker who led the push to legalize gay marriage.
Additional reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Cynthia Osterman