Cuba’s president threw his weight behind the push to legalize same-sex unions in the Communist nation by voicing his support for marriage equality.
In an interview with teleSUR which aired Sunday night, newly-elected President Miguel Diaz-Canel claimed he is in favor of “marriage between people without any restrictions” ahead of a February referendum vote. Five months from now, Cubans will vote on proposed changes to the country’s constitution which would define marriage as a “union between two people.”
Diaz-Canel told the Venezuelan news network these updates to the Magna Carta, which was originally passed under Fidel Castro’s rule in 1976, are a necessary “part of eliminating any type of discrimination in society.”
“We’ve been going through a massive thought evolution and many taboos have been broken,” he said.
The president’s interview — his only sit-down since taking over for Communist Party leader Raul Castro in April — marks the first time a Cuban president has ever publicly backed marriage equality. After Raul’s brother, Fidel, came to power in the 1959 Cuban revolution, gay men were forced into labor camps. HIV/AIDS patients were quarantined in state-run sanitariums until 1993.
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979, the elder Castro didn’t formally apologize for his administration’s treatment of LGBTQ people until a 2010 interview with La Jornada.
The draft constitution reflects a nation which has made some overtures toward embracing LGBTQ rights under the leadership of Mariela Castro. Castro, who is both head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and the niece of Fidel Castro, has called for the passage of a “legislative package” to usher in sweeping pro-LGBTQ reforms.
Cuba has already taken some steps toward that goal. In 2008, trans people were permitted to update their legal gender for the first time as the government announced a plan to offer free transition care on a “case-by-case basis.”
Five years later the Caribbean nation banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace.
Further reforms have been vigorously opposed by conservative forces in Cuba, however.
Five churches urged the Cuban parliament — known as the National Assembly of People’s Power — to drop the proposed same-sex marriage amendment prior to next year’s national plebiscite. In a June letter, signatories argued “gender ideology” has “nothing whatsoever to do with our culture, our independence struggles nor with the historic leaders of the Revolution.”
The denominations reportedly included the Evangelical League and the Methodist Church of Cuba.
Although public polling on the issue has been scarce, Diaz-Canel claimed during this week’s interview that the issue will ultimately be up to Cubans to decide. “[T]he people will have the last word,” he told teleSUR.
In addition to legalizing same-sex marriage, the draft constitution includes a series of proposals which could dramatically reshape Cuban society. These include amendments extending property rights to citizens, setting term limits for presidents, and deemphasizing the centrality of Communism in the federal government.
The draft constitution was approved by the National Assembly in July.