Cuba begins public consultation on marriage equality law
HAVANA — Cuban leaders have launched an unusual series of neighborhood meetings across the island to debate a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage and adoption, a move that pits the daughter of former president Raul Castro against a growing evangelical movement.
The planned 78,000 meetings, which officially began in early February but are only now happening in practice, have been convened by Cuba’s parliament to discuss the content of a proposal and collect public comments by the end of April. This will be used to draft a final version which will be submitted to a public referendum on a date yet to be determined.
Although there is no debate at the meetings – comments can be expressed in writing or verbally, without argument or a vote – the measure and others like it have generated unusually strong discussion in society as a whole.
While gay rights are the most debated part of the proposed law, its more than 400 articles cover all sorts of family matters, including the rights of grandparents and grandchildren, the protection of the elderly, the repression of gender-based violence and how the law deals with marriage and parental responsibility.
This would give children progressively greater rights as they grow.
Such extensive consultation on pending legislation is rare in Cuba, although a similar process preceded the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 2019.
About 200 people attended a meeting outside a house in Havana attended by The Associated Press. The national anthem was sung, the Cuban flag unfurled.
Heidi Sanchez, a nursing assistant, said she liked the change “because it includes everyone in the world: children, the elderly, people of the same sex”.
“We are all human beings and Cubans. I don’t see anything wrong.”
Rosmery Rivera, a 29-year-old housewife, said she was fundamentally in favor of same-sex marriage, “as long as they maintain their privacy”. She said she would rather not have gay neighbors because “it looks ugly”, especially “when there are kids”.
One of the main supporters of the measure is Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sexual Education and promoter of the rights of same-sex couples, in addition to being the daughter of the former president and revolutionary leader.
“It gives me great hope that despite how difficult and contradictory the processes of social transformation have been…we have reached this moment of such an advanced, revolutionary (family) code,” she recently told reporters.
But beyond the revolutionary government, there is a strong strain of social conservatism in Cuba, where evangelical churches have flourished.
“There are very dangerous aspects that go against the Cuban family,” the Methodist Church of Cuba warned in a statement urging members to take this message to their communities.
In addition to equality clauses in marriage, he feared that changes in the status of parents and children would weaken the family.
Other religious groups have even put up posters advocating the “original family” of a man and a woman.
While Cuba was officially – and often militantly – atheist for decades after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro – Raul’s brother – it has become more tolerant of religions over the past quarter century. This meant greater openness not only to the once-dominant Roman Catholic Church, but also to Afro-Cuban religions, Protestants and Muslims.
Some of these churches used the opening in 2018 and 2019 to campaign against another plebiscite that would have rewritten the constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
The opposition was strong enough for the government of the day to back down.