Cuba takes out gay marriage language from new constitution draft after church, citizen protests

Changing marriage from a union of a man and a woman to one between "two people" drew vigorous protests from evangelical groups and others.
Image: FILES-CUBA-POLITICS-GAY-RIGHTS
Mariela Castro, at 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 during the celebration of the day against homophobia and transphobia in Havana, on May 12, 2018.YAMIL LAGE / AFP - Getty Images

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By Associated Press and Nicole Acevedo

HAVANA — Cuba’s government said Tuesday that language promoting the legalization of gay marriage will be removed from the draft of a new constitution after widespread popular rejection of the idea.

Gay rights advocates had proposed eliminating the description of marriage as a union of a man and woman, changing it to the union of “two people ... with absolutely equal rights and obligations.”

That change drew protests from evangelical churches and ordinary citizens in months of public meetings on the new constitution.

Cuba’s National Assembly announced on Twitter that a powerful commission responsible for revising the constitution has proposed eliminating the language from the new charter “as a way of respecting all opinions.”

The constitution would instead be silent on the issue, leaving open the possibility of a future legalization without specifically promoting it.

The constitutional commission is headed by Communist Party head and former president Raul Castro.

His daughter, Mariela Castro, is a lawmaker known as Cuba’s highest-profile advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights. Her advocacy has helped rehabilitate Cuba’s international image on LGBTQ rights after the Castro-led communist government sent gay men to work camps in the 1960s. Widespread persecution continued through the 1970s.

In a series of tweets, Mariela Castro said that even though the language in the draft constitution has changed, the right to gay marriage has not been eliminated.

“The new language embodies the essence of the article previously proposed (68) as it erases the gender binarism and heterosexuality that previously defined marriage under the 1976 Constitution,” Mariela Castro tweeted in Spanish.

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According to her, the new proposal substitutes the word ‘persons’ for the word ‘spouses’ “to make sure that all people have the possibility to access the institution of marriage.” She also said the changes recognize domestic partnerships regardless of gender.

“There is no retreat, the essence of Article 68 is maintained, the struggle continues. Now, let's vote YES on the Constitution and then come together to change [Cuba’s] legal Family Code to be as progressive as the new constitutional text,” Mariela Castro said via Twitter.

While Havana and some other Cuban cities have flourishing gay communities, anti-homosexual attitudes remain deeply rooted among much of the population. Cubans who ordinarily shy from open criticism of the government spoke out in large numbers against the proposed constitutional Article 68 promoting gay marriage during public consultations on the draft constitution throughout the year.

Cuba’s rapidly growing evangelical churches also staked out positions against the article, increasing pressure on a government unused to public pushback.

The new charter is expected to be offered for approval at a public referendum in early 2019.

The dropping of the gay marriage language is the third dramatic reversal this month for a government that for decades has issued most laws and regulations with little public debate or insight into the working of the ruling Communist Party.

The government last week eliminated some of the most-disliked sections of new restrictions on entrepreneurs that were met with widespread public criticism. And tough new limits on artistic expression were delayed after protests and complaints from Cuban artists.

The new laws were announced in July, three months after President Miguel Diaz-Canel took office, and generated bitter complaints from entrepreneurs and artists. The measures included limits on the number of business licenses per household and barred more than 50 seats at private restaurants. They also granted a corps of cultural “inspectors” the power to immediately close any art exhibition or performance found to violate Cuba’s socialist revolutionary values.

On Dec. 4, the country’s vice minister of culture said the art regulation would be delayed and the inspectors’ power would be limited to making recommendations to higher-ranking cultural officials. In addition, they will not be able to inspect any studio or home that is not open to the public.

The next day, the government eliminated the limits on restaurant tables and business licenses, along with new taxes and financial requirements for entrepreneurs.

The elimination of gay marriage appears to be the only major change to the draft constitution.

State media said that Cubans had made 192,408 comments on Article 68, with the majority asking to eliminate it.

Commenters also asked the commission to eliminate presidential term and age limits and allow direct presidential elections but the draft charter maintains the two-term limit, maximum age of 65, and the selection of the president by the National Assembly.

Francisco Rodriguez, a Communist Party member and gay blogger known as “Paquito de Cuba,” said simply eliminating any reference to the participants in a marriage is an acceptable compromise that will focus gay activists on campaigning for changes in the national legal code that would allow gay marriage.

“This was a side step,” he said. “It’s a solution. Not ‘between a man and a woman’ or ‘between two people.’ Now is when it all begins.”

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Mary Murray contributed.