SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The Puerto Rican Senate on Thursday approved a sweeping bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and government services in the U.S. territory.
The 15-11 vote took place after lawmakers for several hours debated Senate Bill 238 that Sen. Ramón Nieves Pérez introduced in January.
“The country, you and I are sick and tired of the marginalization,” Sen. Mari Tere González said.
Former Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz is among those who spoke against the bill.
“This Senate speaks of tolerance but discriminates against those who don’t have the same political ideology,” he tweeted during the debate.
The bill’s passage comes three days after San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz mandated the Puerto Rican capital’s police department to equally apply the island’s current domestic violence laws, regardless of the reported victim’s sexual orientation. She also signed a second executive order that bans discrimination against the city’s municipal employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and others repeatedly criticized former Gov. Luís Fortuño for not doing enough to curb rampant anti-LGBT violence on the island following the 2009 murder of gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado.
Current Gov. Alejandro García Padilla in February told a local newspaper he opposes the Puerto Rico Supreme Court decision that narrowly upheld the island’s gay adoption ban. He also supports both SB 238 and a separate measure on which a Senate committee will hold a hearing on Friday that would extend adoption rights to gays and lesbians.
Thousands of people on Friday are also expected to take part in a march in the Puerto Rican capital that will commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia.
Dozens of LGBT rights advocates and other supporters cheered Serrano as he walked out of the Puerto Rican Capitol after the SB 238 vote.
“We are celebrating this victory,” he told the Blade while noting Schatz has previously referred to him as a “faggot.” “The people are celebrating with us. It is an extraordinary step forward.”
Bayamón resident Héctor Maldonado and a handful of other SB 238 supporters who stood across the street from the Capitol during the debate waved rainbow flags and held signs that urged passing motorists to honk their horns in support of the measure. One man yelled “maricón” or “faggot” at them as he drove past, but several drivers indicated their support of the bill.
“It’s just about basic human rights,” Maldonado told the Blade.
SB 238 will now go to the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.