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Cuba's draft constitution opens path to same-sex marriage

Cuba has made great strides over the past decade on LGBTQ rights, partly thanks to the high-profile advocacy of Fidel Castro's niece Mariela Castro.

HAVANA — The draft of Cuba's new constitution opens the path to same-sex marriage, a government official said on Saturday, which would make the country that once persecuted homosexuals an unlikely leader in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

In the early years of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, many homosexuals were sent to correctional labor camps, part of an institutionalized homophobia for which Castro later apologized.

Image: Mariela Castro participates in the gay pride parade
Mariela Castro, center, daughter of Cuban former President Raul Castro and the director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), participates in the gay pride parade in Havana, on May 12, 2018.Yamil Lage / AFP - Getty Images

Yet Communist-run Cuba has made great strides over the past decade on LGBTQ rights, approving sex-reassignment surgeries and banning workplace discrimination, partly thanks to the high-profile advocacy of Castro's niece Mariela Castro.

Proposals to recognize same-sex unions had stalled in view of the slow legislative process and lingering stigma in the macho society.

That will start to change with the new constitution that will replace Cuba's 1976 Soviet-era Magna Carta, the secretary of the council of state, Homero Acosta, told lawmakers on Saturday.

The draft, elaborated by a commission headed by former President Raul Castro — Mariela Castro's father — defines matrimony as between two individuals rather than between a man and a woman, he said.

"The possibility of marriage between two people strengthens our project's principles of equality and justice," Acosta told lawmakers, adding that further legal changes would be needed to allow for gay marriage.

The move reflects a trend in Latin America where same-sex couples have been allowed to marry in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and some parts of Mexico in recent years, despite church opposition.

The battle has not yet been won however, Cuban LGBTQ rights activist Isbel Diaz Torres cautioned on social media.

While the national assembly is expected to approve the draft constitution this weekend, it will then be submitted to a popular consultation, and final draft will be put to a national referendum.

"We will continue in the streets until the final process of the constitutional reform," said Diaz Torres. "And after the constitutional modification has been approved, we must ensure that same sex marriage is approved."

Grassroots campaigns for and against gay marriage have made it the most broadly debated proposed constitutional modification.

Five evangelical denominations shared a statement on social media last month declaring marriage "exclusively the union of a man and a woman, according to the Bible."

Image: A placard opposing gay marriage is seen on a pole in Havana
A placard opposing gay marriage is seen on a pole in Havana, Cuba, on July 19, 2018. The placard reads "Marriage is the voluntarily arranged union of a man and a woman."Reuters

Churches also plastered neighborhoods with anti gay marriage posters such as one reading "I am in favor of the original design — the family as God created it," showing a heterosexual couple with a boy and a girl.

LGBTQ rights activists fought back with their own posters such as one reading "I am in favor of Cuban design — a very original family," showing a panoply of different family configurations including same-sex unions.