The isle of Cuba is gearing up for a high-stakes national referendum on family law. Foremost in the balance is the matter of codifying same-sex marriage.
On July 22nd, Cuba’s National Assembly approved amendments to its Family Code that would expand gay rights in the communist country, Reuters reports. However, this sweeping revision of the Family Code would go far beyond same-sex marriage, affecting most aspects of family life.
The president and vice president of the Cuban Society of Civil and Family Law of the National Union of Jurists told Newsweek,
The Draft Code is one of the most important standards for the social life of the nation. … It is a groundbreaking vision that breaks the traditional paradigms that have sustained the laws of the family; extending the cloak of protection to all people, increasing the affection and reach of the laws.
Same-sex married couples would be able to adopt children, ‘multi-parenthood’ would be recognized, and the equal sharing of domestic responsibilities between spouses would be ‘promoted.’
Non-profit surrogacy arrangements and adoption by same-sex married couples would be legalized, as the law recognizes “every person’s right to have a family.”
Ostensibly to protect children and adolescents in vulnerable situations, the law articulates a fundamental change in the relationship between parents and their children. According to Voz de América, the new law “intends to understand motherhood and fatherhood as a matter of responsibility and not of possession” and parents would be required to be “respectful of the dignity and physical and mental integrity of children and adolescents.” It is unclear how broadly this provision would be interpreted and under what circumstances it might permit children to override their parents’ wishes.
The revised Family Code will come to a vote on September 25th. Earlier this year, it had been debated in around 79,000 ‘community meetings,’ in which some 6.5 million citizens participated. Organizers say 62% of participants were in favor of the new law, which, according to Reuters, is on the low side for Cuba. The recently-passed, new constitution garnered 86% of the vote. Previous referendums have seen even more enthusiasm, with numbers reaching 95%.
In order to be ratified, the amendments must pass with a simple majority vote of at least 50% of Cuban citizens over the age of 16. According to the president of the National Electoral Council, the vote will be held abroad on September 18th, but only “diplomats and collaborators—doctors, technicians and specialists under official contract—not Cubans residing abroad [will be permitted to vote]. The latter will only be able to vote if they travel to the country,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
With about 60% of the population identifying as Catholic, the Family Code’s promoters could well have a battle on their hands. Back in 2019, bishops and other faith leaders reportedly prevented same-sex marriage from being included in an updated version of Cuba’s constitution—originally adopted in 1976, just months before Fidel Castro became president of the newly founded National Assembly’s State Council.
Historically, Cuba—under communism—has not been tolerant of homosexuality. In the 1960s, Castro’s authoritarian regime sent gay men to forced labour camps for ‘re-education.’ From 1986 to 1997 (at the height of the AIDS epidemic), Cuba was the only nation in the world to force people living with HIV into quarantine.
However, in 2010, six years before his death, Castro apologized for his role in these events, and the country has since tried to make reparations. In 1979, homosexuality was decriminalised, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity in housing and employment has been banned since 2013. Earlier this year, Cuba became the first Latin American or Spanish-speaking country to celebrate ‘LGBTQ+ History Month.’
Some critics, however, take a skeptical view of Cuba’s professed fervor for ‘equality,’ taking it as a cynical move designed to obfuscate its poor human rights record. On June 30th, the U.S. State Department called out the Cuban government’s “ongoing harsh sentencing of political protesters” and called on political leaders to allow greater freedom of expression. The statement cited 550 cases in which protesters were “sentenced to prison, forced labor, or other punitive measures.”
Should the referendum gain a majority of votes, Cuba would be the second country in Central America and the Caribbean—following Costa Rica’s example—to legalise same-sex marriage.