October 22, 2012
by Ana Arana
Last August, Manuel Berumen, a university professor, received the shock of his life after kissing his wife as they strolled with their four-year-old son in a public plaza in Leon, Guanajuato. A woman complained about the “indecency” and he ended up in jail. Berumen was victim of Guanajuato’s anti-obscenity laws, which ban kissing in public. The law was introduced in 2009 under mayor Eduardo Romero Hicks, of the conservative right win National Action Party, (PAN).
Berumen had demanded justice for wrong imprisonment and urged that the police officers who arrested him be punished. But now, a local inquiry body, called the Honor and Justice Committee has exonerated the police officers who arrested Berumen and said they were only protecting local law.
Berumen has again protested the decision and urged the Leon government to abolish such committee because it does not protect the rights of citizens against police abuse. Berumen criticised Mayor Sheffield for not staying on top of the situation and said he would present a legal demand against members of the Honor and Justice committee.
Nobody would have learned about Berumen’s arrest last August if he had not planted himself in front of Leon’s City Hall to protest police abuse. City Mayor Ricardo Sheffield apologised at the time for the police actions and promised an investigation. But the Leon´s Chief of Police insisted that Berumen had violated the law.
The incident put the city of Leon in the limelight, and a few days after Berumen was arrested a kissing protest was held, with several couples gathering to kiss in public and break the law. Guanajuato’s anti-kissing law is out of sync with its famous Callejon del Beso, or Kissing Alley, a tourist attraction. The alley is a narrow street where, according to legend, couples must kiss to receive seven years of good luck. Those couples who stroll down the street and do not kiss, could also get seven years of bad luck.
Guanajuato is one of Mexico’s most conservative states, where the division between Church and State is fuzzy. Women in this state can be arrested for wearing miniskirts and men for swearing in public. While many of the public moral laws can be ignored, there are other legal requirements that are serious.
Guanajuato has been one of the states more recalcitrant about abortion. Nine women are currently in jail charged with homicide for having abortions. The state is also against sex education in schools. In 2010, local education officials distributed a book that had not been approved by federal authorities which emphasised virginity, abstinence and marriage instead of sex education.