Cubans vote in referendum on same-sex marriage

Cubans vote in referendum on same-sex marriage


Cubans will vote in a landmark referendum on Sunday on whether to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption, allow surrogacy and give greater rights to birth parents.

The new family code promoted by the communist government would mark a major change in Cuba, where the culture of machismo is strong and where the LGBTQ community was ostracized by the authorities in the 1960s and 1970s.

More than eight million Cubans over 16 are invited to vote “yes” or “no” amid the country’s worst economic crisis in 30 years, and experts say the referendum could become an opportunity to voice opposition to the government.

If passed, the new Family Code would replace a law that has been in effect since 1975 and would define marriage as the union between two people rather than between a man and a woman.

It would also allow surrogacy as long as no money changes hands, while strengthening the rights of children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

“The family code establishes above all respect for people, respect for each (person) and everyone,” said President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Polling stations are open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. local time.

– ‘I’m Christian, I have other ideas’-

Official attitudes towards homosexuality have changed significantly over the past 20 years, and the government has put a lot of effort into the “Yes” campaign on TV and social media.

“I don’t care if two men get married or two women get married, I don’t have that prejudice,” pensioner Reinaldo Orgalles, 67, told AFP. “I come from a different time, but I don’t have that prejudice.”

In 2019, the government tried to include same-sex marriage rights in the country’s new constitution, but failed after criticism from the Catholic and Protestant churches.

The Bishops’ Conference recently reiterated its opposition to some of the key provisions of the new code, such as allowing surrogacy.

“It is unethical … for a woman who has carried a baby in her womb for nine months to have to give it to others immediately after birth,” the bishops said.

Zulika Corso, 65, a teacher in central Havana, agrees.

“I’m a Christian, I have other ideas, I don’t accept that,” she said.

– ‘More important issues’ –

Between February and April, a major public debate took place across Cuba, with more than 79,000 neighborhood meetings held to discuss the new family rights.

This resulted in more than half of the original text being changed, according to official media.

Political scientist Rafael Hernandez calls it the “most important human rights law” in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

The law would be one of the most progressive in Latin America, where same-sex marriage is legal in only eight other countries: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, Uruguay and some Mexican states.

But experts also say that the sheer size of the code — it contains around 500 articles — might counteract that.

For example, some Cubans have expressed support for same-sex marriage but oppose surrogacy.

“I still haven’t decided because there are some things that I think are good and a lot of others that I don’t think are good,” said Airam Zulueta, a restaurant owner.

Six decades after the revolution, Cuba is experiencing its worst economic crisis in 30 years, fueled by tightening US sanctions and a collapse in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with critical import shortages and skyrocketing inflation, many Cubans are struggling to access medicines, electricity, fuel and basic necessities.

Historic anti-government protests erupted across the country last summer, with citizens calling for food and more freedoms.

Hundreds have been arrested and jailed, but the crackdown hasn’t stopped repeated demonstrations in recent months in a country notoriously intolerant of dissidents.

Many voters could use this opportunity to voice their disapproval of the government, experts say.

“There are many other issues that are more important than the family code, like the fact that there is no food, that many people are starving,” concierge Julio Cesar Vazquez told AFP.

Dissidents and the banned opposition, lacking other means of expression, have urged citizens to reject the new code or abstain from voting.

The bill needs more than 50 percent of the votes to pass.

More to explorer