Gay Families to Gain Recognition in Cuba?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday August 3, 2011

Cuba's detractors point to the island nation's socialist government and declare that Cubans live under freedom-killing tyranny. But gay and lesbian families there may be on the brink of achieving a kind of freedom that not all of their American counterparts enjoy: Legal recognition, and with it better means to protect and provide for their families.

CNN reported in a July 29 article that the Cuban government, spurred on by efforts by Raul Castro's daughter Mariela, who has tirelessly worked for reform in Cuba for the sake of GLBTs there, is contemplating civil unions.

The article took note of the fact that five Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, and Uruguay) embrace civil unions or marriage equality on the national level, and some states in Mexico also extend civil unions to same-sex couples.

It's a realm of freedom and equitable family treatment that the United States has only partially entered, with six states offering marriage equality, a number of other states permitting civil unions or domestic partnership, and some states -- and the federal government -- barring recognition of any kind for gay and lesbian families. Thirty-one states also have added anti-gay amendments to their constitutions barring marriage by any but heterosexual couples.

The reasons for America's largely anti-gay patchwork of laws are largely bound to religious faith, with opponents pointing to the Bible and reciting passages that appear to condemn same-sex intimacy. But Latin America is largely Roman Catholic, and Cuba is officially secular, but remains part of the Catholic fold.

In Cuba's case, a history of anti-gay policies stems from the revolution that brought the current socialist regime to power, CNN noted. "The socialist 'New Man' envisioned by Che Guevara was strong, self-sacrificing, masculine -- and unambiguously heterosexual," read the article. In the wake of the revolution, gays have been subjected to imprisonment and punishment under the guise of "rehabilitation."

But human sexuality is not a matter of choice, and sexual orientation cannot be determined by law. For Mariela Castro and other supporters of GLBT equality, civil unions would be a step toward more comprehensive justice.

"This is a historic opportunity, and I think we're close to having draft legislation," said Mariela Castro told a radio station. "We've been working on this issue for a long time, with a lot of activism. We're starting to see results and a political solution."

Mariela Castro, who is heterosexual, is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. Among the results she referred to: Pride parades that take place without fear of political persecution for their participants.

But the society at large has been slower to change, noted the article. And the country's impoverished status leaves many gay and lesbian families in the same straits as young heterosexual families: Unable to establish their own households. Indeed, many heterosexual couples never wed even though they might have children, because they are too poor to have weddings, the article said.

"It's hard to get excited about it when you still live with your parents and can't think about having a house of your own," said one open lesbian, Ailec Garcia, of the proposed civil unions." Even so, for the island's society, Garcia said, "[I]t would be a huge step forward."

Last summer the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez, signed marriage equality in the nation into law, making Argentina the first nation to grant marriage parity as a matter of law. Within a few months, 500 families had wed.

"Elsewhere in Latin America, gay marriage is also allowed in Mexico City, while same-sex civil unions granting some rights are legal in Uruguay and in some states in Mexico and Brazil," the Associated Press reported in an article from July 30, 2010. "Colombia's Constitutional Court has granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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