Cuba’s new draft constitution could open the door to recognize same-sex marriages in an island nation where LGBTQ people were previously subject to extreme persecution.
Proposed changes to its Magna Carta — passed under Fidel Castro’s rule in 1979 — would replace the constitution’s current definition of marriage as a “voluntary union between a man and woman.” As Reuters initially reported, an updated draft of Article 68 paves the ways to recognize marriage as “the consensual union between two people, regardless of gender.”
The amendments were unanimously approved by members of the Cuban parliament, also known as the National Assembly of People’s Power. Before they can become law, the constitution will have to be approved via national referendum.
The vote is scheduled to be held from Aug. 13 to Nov. 15.
If Australia’s contentious ballot initiative on marriage equality is any indication, the public vote could be a major test of LGBTQ rights as Cuba slowly embraces democratic reform. The months-long public debate in Australia spawned a virulent conservative backlash — which included swastika graffiti on residential homes in Brisbane and anti-gay slurs on subway cars in Sydney.
Cuba could be poised for a similar battle.
As parliamentarians debated the pro-LGBTQ amendment earlier this year, churches posted fliers blasting Cuba’s constitutional changes. “I am in favor of the original design — the family as God created it,” the posters read.
Meanwhile, a coalition of five evangelical groups penned an open letter in June arguing that same-sex unions have no place in traditional Cuban society. Calling marriage “exclusively the union of man and woman,” conservatives argued that “the ideology of gender has no relation with our culture, our struggles, or with the historic leaders of the Revolution.”
Cuba has come a long way, though, since the Communist revolution of 1959 — a time when queer and transgender people were forced into labor camps. After the HIV/AIDS crisis reached the island in the 1980s, Castro’s regime quarantined anyone who tested positive for the virus in a sanitarium.
The Cuban government has since apologized for decades of homophobic persecution as the country emerges as an unlikely leader on LGBTQ rights.
In 2008, Cuba allowed transgender people to medically and surgically transition for the first time. Five years later the country banned workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under the Equal Opportunity Law, but that legislation does not cover gender identity. It also does not provide explicit protection for LGBTQ people in education, housing, or other public accommodations.
But there’s no better illustration of the changing times than the fact that Castro’s own niece, Mariela Castro, has led the push for further pro-LGBTQ progress. She called for a Cuba based on the “principles of equality and non-discrimination, including gender, sexual orientation and gender identity” in a tweet earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Castro announced in May that she would propose a same-sex marriage amendment as part of the constitutional debate.
Government leaders signaled that they have been listening to Castro’s longtime impassioned calls for change. Secretary of the Council of State Homero Acosta told reporters that marriage equality “strengthens our project’s principles of equality and justice,” while President Miguel Díaz-Canel claimed the “constitutional text… reflects the today and the future of the country.”
Marriage equality isn’t the only legislative change Cuba is poised to adopt. Proposed amendments to the constitution include term limits for presidents, allowing citizens to own private property, and deemphasizing Communism in favor of socialism.
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