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Cuban Family Code Referendum: LGBTQ Rights And More

Updated: Apr 15

Initially published October 10, 2022 by Ryan Deitsch

 A community discussion on the proposed Family Code in La Lisa, Cuba, Feb 2022. Photo by Adalberto Roque

A community discussion on the proposed Family Code in La Lisa, Cuba, Feb 2022.-Photo by Adalberto Roque

On September 25th, 2022 Cuba held a voter referendum in which Cubans voted whether or not to approve adopting a new 100 page family code for the island nation. Though there was strong open resistance from the nation’s growing evangelical movement, the vote in favor of the new code totaled roughly 66%, or a supermajority; overwhelmingly passing the measure. On social media state officials, LGBTQ activists and allies celebrated the passage as revolutionary. While the central focus has been around the legalization of same-sex marriage, this new code and the process regarding its conception expands far beyond that.

The new code not only allows same-sex couples to legally marry but also to adopt children and expands rights around surrogate pregnancies. Caretakers for the young and the old are also granted more labor rights by these changes. Another change included new rights defining guardianship in cases of divorce. These changes were no longer clear-cut to either the father or mother as the old family code, which was adopted in 1975. The old family code primarily served to support the Cuban patriarchy as well as the nuclear family. The new code also broadens the rights of grandparents to their grandchildren, especially in cases of divorce. With this passing, greater gender equality under the law is secure and punitive measures against gender violence are further solidified.

The focus on the LGBTQ community is certainly warranted however, granted the history of repression in the early Castro regime as well as previous incomplete attempts to secure rights for gays and lesbians. While the early Castro regime rounded up LGBTQ peoples to conduct forced labor, the Cuban government changed course slowly overtime, reversing penal codes for homosexuality in the mid-1980’s and promoting normalization of LGBTQ peoples from the late 90’s onward. Though often considered isolated, Cuba follows other Latin American states in expanding LGBTQ rights during the last several decades, though the entire region still does not fully protect them as they do for heterosexual couples and nuclear families. Cuba now joins nations like Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Colombia in affirming marriage equality under the law.

A woman with a baby in Havana on a stroll past Cuban government ads promoting a ‘Yes Vote’ for the new Family Code. Photo by Yamil Lage

A woman with a baby in Havana on a stroll past Cuban government ads promoting a ‘Yes Vote’ for the new Family Code. -Photo by Yamil Lage

The affirmation of LGBTQ rights aside, this referendum also represents a historic moment in Cuban citizen participation. According to reports, this referendum represents the first direct citizen consultation following the 1959 Revolution when Fidel Castro came to power. This process saw hundreds of neighborhood meetings, many state organized, in which people voiced what they hoped would be included or excluded from the new code. French 24 English reported that these meetings numbered 80,000 including as many stakeholders as the process allowed. Even the opposition, primarily Roman Catholic and Evangelical backed groups, was vocal against the government backed measure, seemingly free to express their disagreement.

Outside the religious opposition to this new family code, Laura Vargas of the Havana Times and the organization Human Rights Watch wrote against the idea of putting such important rights to a popular vote. They primarily argue that if the measure failed, the state could argue that, given the supposed open involvement of the Cuban people, this decision would have been democratically decided, allowing the Cuban government to relinquish responsibility to defend LGBTQ rights. Since the measure has passed, these criticisms hold less weight. Another more concerning criticism revolves around the provision to legally require general respect for authorities and national symbols, which could be innocuous but also could empower further government suppression of opposition since respect is a metric measured and verified by the state.

This referendum only came to pass due to the long struggle waged by rights activists who came to be supported by the Cuban government, which ran many ads leading up to the vote. This government support was seen as a double edged sword, especially given the possibility some would reject this measure as a protest vote against the state. Cuba has been facing economic hardships worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the largest exodus of Cubans in decades. Even after the passage of the new family code, celebration did not stay strong for long as the island was battered by Hurricane Ian, causing power outages to most residences. MSNBC reports crackdowns against protestors which, while not new, could be further empowered by these new regulations.

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