Havana ponders recognizing same-sex unions

Cubans are debating a new set of proposals to update the country’s Family Code to include the legal recognition of same-sex relationships and transgender people. Supporters are hoping that the National Assembly will approve the reform package later this year.

Sexologist Mariela Castro Espín, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), told the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada at a recent conference in Havana that the proposed changes are part of an effort to eliminate all forms of social exclusion.

Cuban law does not currently recognize gay or lesbian couples. According to Castro, the proposals include recognizing same-sex couples and extending to them all the same rights and privileges that opposite-sex couples enjoy, including inheritance and adoption rights. “One cannot continue perpetuating discrimination and exclusion as a value,” she said.

However, Castro emphasized that gay unions would not be called marriages, which under the Cuban constitution is reserved only for men and women. The rights of gay and lesbian people who are not legally registered as a couple would also be recognized, as would those of opposite-sex unregistered couples. Cenesex drafted the reform proposals.

Castro said the reform proposals are being debated in the National Assembly’s standing commission for judicial and constitutional matters, as well as among lawyers and other sectors of the population. She said the proposals are drawing both support and opposition.

Castro said that those who are against the changes argue that “Cuban society is not prepared for this.” The most contentious change is allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Despite the resistance to the proposed changes, Castro said, “There is the political will to eliminate all forms of discrimination in our laws.”

One group that Castro mentioned as being interested in the reforms is the National Association of Small Farmers. The group said there are cases of gay men leaving the countryside because they feel rejected or humiliated due to their sexual orientation.

Castro said the reform package also recognizes the rights of transgender persons, people who for various reasons identify with a gender identity that differs from their original physiological and psychological status. The law would give Cuban men and women the legal right to change their sex after a medical diagnosis. She said that sex-change operations, including hormonal treatments, are already being carried out in Cuba, and medical personnel are being trained to carry out such procedures.

Castro also mentioned that the Cuban government’s education ministries have already agreed to undertake efforts, through changes in the curriculum, to eliminate prejudice against gays, lesbians and transgender persons among young people.

Castro added that the reform package, as well as recognizing the family model’s diverse expressions, also includes new measures dealing with the care of elderly people, the handicapped, gender violence, child sexual abuse, and adoption, among other things.

She is hoping that the reform package, which is also being reviewed by the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba, will be sent to the National Assembly sometime this year to be voted on. Castro is the daughter of Raul Castro, interim president of Cuba, and Vilma Espín, former president of the Federation of Cuban Women (FCM), who recently passed away. The FCM is also backing Cenesex’s proposed changes to the Family Code.

If the Cuban Communist Party and National Assembly support the reform package, Cuba will become the first country in Latin America to accept same-sex couples and extend to them the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.

Currently, Mexico City; the Northern Mexican state of Coahuila; Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital; and the Brazilian state of Rio Grande Do Sul are the only places in Latin America that recognize same-sex couples.

Legislation passed by Columbia’s Congress and endorsed by President Alvaro Uribe that would have given gay couples together for two years a full range of entitlements and benefits was defeated in the Colombian Senate June 20. Supporters have vowed to reintroduce the legislation for another vote.

Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil are considering recognizing same sex-unions.

tpelzer @shaw.ca