Adultery soon not to be illegal in Mexico. Who knew it was?
The most surprising thing about Mexico's decision this week to decriminalize adultery was that the practice actually was a crime.
The culture of "la casa chica" has a long history in Mexico. Literally "the little house," the phrase refers to a man's mistress and the children he has with her, set up in a second household. According to the penal code (the website Animal Politico publishes the code here in Spanish), that could earn the man a two-year jail term. The law was rarely enforced.
Social commentator Guadalupe Loaeza says the practice of second households was once widespread, especially among the Mexican political class.
"Mexican casas chicas run through all of Mexico's history: Maximilian himself [the 19th century French-imposed emperor of Mexico] had a casa chica for Conchita Sedano y Leguizamo [his mistress] just outside Cuernavaca," she wrote a few years back when the move to repeal the adultery law first got started.
There was even a Mexican movie, made in 1950 by director Roberto Gavaldon, called "La Casa Chica" (English title was "The Love Nest"), in which, we are told, the philandering husband was a sympathetic character.
The prevalence of la casa chica has faded over the last generation or so, Loaeza notes, in part because of easier divorce, better rights for women, globalization and economic crises that made it an expensive venture.
Some of the legislators who championed the decriminalization effort in the Senate this week said they wanted to get rid of the law because it discriminated against women. The law "was historically used by men to maintain women as property," Sen. Pablo Gomez of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party said (link in Spanish).
The repeal passed the Senate on Thursday, previously passed the lower house and now must be published in the official government newspaper.
The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, weighed in (link in Spanish) to remind Mexicans that although adultery may no longer be a crime, it remains forever a sin.
--Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City