Family Code: the expected and controversial referendum in which homosexual marriages can be legalized in Cuba


Cubans do not vote to elect their president, but they will be able to do so this Sunday to approve, or reject, the legal framework that will govern their family relations.

“Do you agree with the Family Code?” is the only question that will be put to the voters, with “yes” and “no” as answer options in this unusual referendum, the third in the country’s recent history after those who ratified the constitutions of 1976 and 2019.

Same-sex marriage, the adoption of children by them or surrogacy are some of the most prominent and controversial proposals of the 104-page document that seeks to replace a 1975 regulation.

The plebiscite comes at a time of deep economic crisis in Cuba, where the main concern among its more than 11 million inhabitants is to weather the shortage of all kinds of productsfrom food and medicine to toiletries or clothing, and the increasingly frequent blackouts.

The increasingly difficult daily struggle for survival in Cuba has made the referendum on families a secondary matter for a large part of the population.

The main changes

The new Family Code was submitted to a popular consultation between February and April of this year in which 6.5 million Cubans participated, according to the government.

In addition to the so-called “same-sex marriage”, the possibility for same-sex couples to adopt children or “solidarity gestation” -non-profit surrogacy-, the code contemplates other changes in family interactions.

For example, it opens avenues for penalizesr to domestic abusers in aspects such as the custody of their children, distribution of assets or inheritance; protects communication between minors and their grandparents in the event of divorce, and legally incorporates stepmothers and stepfathers as guardians.

It also allows parents to choose the order of their children’s surnames and extends – at least on paper, since this requires material resources – the protection of older or disabled adults.

Another noteworthy point is the possibility of grandparents acquiring parental responsibility, something important considering that in recent months tens of thousands of middle-aged Cubans have emigratedin many cases leaving their parents to take care of the minors in the house.

The “yes” versus the “no”

The government has undertaken a broad “yes” campaign on television, radio and newspapers (in Cuba the media are owned by the State), on social networks with the hashtags #YoVotoSi and #CodigoSi, on the street with abundant posters and even in educational centers through special sessions on the new Code.

All Cuban institutions, from the National Electoral Council to the Supreme Court, have supported the campaign of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by the influential Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raúl Castro.

Mariela Castro
Mariela Castro has been the champion of the cause of the LGBT community in the Cuban State for years.

“The Family Code contributes, expands and contributes to broadly guaranteeing the rights of all individuals and all families. It contributes to further democratize intergender, intergenerational relations,” Mariela Castro told the Efe news agency this week.

Much of the LGBT community in Cuba also supports the “yes” vote on Sunday.

“That finally in Cuba the legitimacy of love, unions and the lives of thousands of homosexual people be legally recognized is a cause for celebrationand vindicates my entire existence and that of the people in my community,” 25-year-old Cuban actor and prominent activist Daniel Triana explained to BBC Mundo.

Activist Daniel Triana (left) with other members of the LGBT community.
Daniel Triana (left) with other activists and members of the LGBT community.

As in Cuba the State monopolizes the public sphere, there is no articulated campaign for the “no” in the media or in the street.

Those who oppose the approval of the new Family Code do so above all with messages on the networks and use various reasons, usually religious or political.

“The introduction in our legislation of the contents of the so-called ‘gender ideology’, which supports many of the proposals, does not benefit the Cuban family,” the Episcopal Conference of Cuba stated in a statement on its website.

The bishops especially criticize same-sex marriage, adoption by them and surrogacy, which they consider contrary to Catholic values ​​and faith.

In the statement they express, however, their support for other points of the proposal related to domestic violence and the protection of the rights of the elderly and minors.

Meanwhile, on Twitter those who oppose the Family Code have expressed their rejection with the hashtags #YoVotoNo and #CodigoNO.

“Our families also need food, clothing, shoes, medicine, housing, a better quality of life, better hospitals and schools, and I don’t see a campaign for that anywhere. That’s why #YoVotoNo”, published another Internet user.

Many opponents have also raised doubts about cleaning referendumwhich according to the authorities is guaranteed, although there will be no supervision by international organizations.

political confrontation

Like almost every topical issue in Cuba, the plebiscite has acquired strong political connotations.

Cuban authorities have linked the “yes” campaign with the defense of the current political model since 1959 and increasingly questioned within the country as social discontent increases due to the disastrous economic situation.

Poster favorable to the Family Code in the official newspaper Invasor, from the central province of Ciego de Ávila
Poster favorable to the Family Code in the official newspaper Invasor, from the central province of Ciego de Ávila. INVASIVE

“Supporting the Family Code is supporting the country’s project,” was the title of an article with an interview with Mariela Castro last May in the state newspaper Granma.

For activist Daniel Triana “this is disgusting, since the government could have approved same-sex marriage with a stroke of the pen in the National Assembly of People’s Power (Parliament), where everything is voted unanimously.”

“Those of us who dissent from the regime and who support the code we are in a very delicate ethical and political position“, he assures.

LGBT Manifestation Cuba 2019
In Cuba, gays, lesbians and trans can demonstrate, but only under the tutelage and organization of the State: when in 2019 LGBT activists held a march on their own in Havana, plainclothes agents attacked and arrested several protesters. GETTY IMAGES

Outside the LGBT community, the majority of dissidents in Cuba have expressed on social networks their intention to vote “no” or abstain as a form of punishment to the government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Others inside and outside the country have taken advantage of the occasion to denounce the lack of political freedoms in Cuba, governed by the Communist Party as the sole and supreme body of power in the State.

“If you can’t elect your president, how can you expose your children to a Family Code that was elected by someone you didn’t vote for? If they are voting on the Family Code, why not vote on free multiparty elections?” wrote the artist Yotuel Romero, former singer of the Orishas group and co-author of the song Patria y Vida, which has become an anthem of Cuban dissidence. .

A dark and controversial past

If the referendum is approved on Sunday, Cuba would become the 34th country in which, partially or totally, legalizes same-sex marriage.

The government’s support for this initiative contrasts with the persecution suffered by homosexuals in the first decades of the 1959 revolution.

Fidel Castro’s regime considered homosexuality a own vice of capitalist society and bourgeois.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were known for their low tolerance for homosexuality. GETTY IMAGES

“We cannot come to believe that a homosexual could meet the conditions and requirements of behavior that would allow us to consider him a true revolutionary, a true communist militant,” the ruler publicly declared in 1965.

In those years homosexuals -along with priests and other people considered counterrevolutionary- were frequently arrested, expelled from their jobs and incarcerated in labor campss forced called UMAPs (Military Production Support Units) for their “rehabilitation”.

Newspaper clipping from Granma about the UMAP.
Some 25,000 Cubans, according to estimates, were confined in the UMAP between 1965 and 1968. They were forced labor camps to “reeducate” people with tendencies contrary to the values ​​of socialism and the Revolution. GRANMA

After two decades of harsh repression, In 1979, relationships between people of the same sex were decriminalized. and began a gradual liberalization that accelerated already in the 21st century.

“The government was forced to come to terms with its recent past of intolerance and discrimination in order to fit into the new post-socialist global order. The country needed to open up to the world and offer an image of openness”, explains Cuban historian Abel Sierra Madero.

Meanwhile, some LGBT activists on the island lament that the recent facelift of the Cuban state, culminating in the Family Code, casts a veil over this dark past.

“Cuba was until recently a homotransphobic state. Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara were confessed homotransphobes. Suddenly with this code they intend to obviate all this without a single mention of that disastrous history. They have not apologized and have simply tried to push it as a natural law that emerges from the historical coherence of the Cuban revolution. That is not only false but also very cynical and macabre”, denounces the activist Daniel Triana.

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