June 7, 2016 at 11:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuba same-sex marriage campaign gains traction

Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

An office in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood in which civil marriages take place. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

CARDENAS, Cuba — Niurca Rodríguez is a housewife with a gay son, Onasis, who lives in the Cuban city of Cárdenas that is near the beach resort of Varadero.

She told Victor Manuel Dueñas of the Babel Sociocultural Project, a group based in the city of Santo Domingo in the province of Villa Clara that advocates on behalf of LGBT Cubans and other disadvantaged groups, in a interview she recorded at her son’s home on May 5 that she is “very proud” of him. Rodríguez also expressed optimism that Cuba will one day extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“It has already been approved in other countries,” Rodríguez told Dueñas, referring to same-sex marriage. “I wish for the same thing in Cuba.”

Dueñas is among the Cuban LGBT activists who are behind a campaign in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples on the Communist island.

The campaign — known as “We Also Love” or “Nosotros También Amamos” in Spanish — officially began last December.

Activists have encouraged Cubans to sign a petition in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. They ultimately hope to spur members of the Cuban National Assembly to debate the issue in December when they hold their annual meeting in Havana.

“I want to get married one day,” Dueñas told the Washington Blade on June 2 during a telephone interview from Cárdenas. “This is my dream.”

Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights pose outside their organization’s headquarters in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 18, 2016. The group is among the organizations that are behind a campaign that seeks to prompt lawmakers to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples on the Communist island. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

José Armando, a 27-year-old gay man who works for a state-owned transportation company in Cárdenas, expressed a similar statement in an interview that Dueñas added to the video that includes Rodríguez’s comments in support of the marriage campaign.

“[Same-sex marriage] would give me the chance to enter into a union with the person who I love,” José Armando told Dueñas.

Government has ‘obligation’ to protect minorities

The Cuban constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It also bans discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious beliefs and “any other offense against human dignity.”

The Cuban National Assembly in late 2013 approved a bill that added sexual orientation to the country’s employment nondiscrimination law. Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro who directs Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, voted against the proposal because it did not include transgender-specific language.

“The state’s institutions educate everyone from an early age on the principle of equality of human beings,” reads Article 42 of the Cuban constitution.

Dueñas told the Blade that the Cuban government has “an obligation” to “create laws to protect minorities.” Roydes Gamboa, a Havana-based lawyer who founded Free Angel, a group that fights anti-LGBT discrimination in Cuba, also referenced the country’s constitution during a May 20 interview at the Habana Libre hotel in the Cuban capital’s Vedado neighborhood.

“It is going to happen in full relation to the principle of equality,” Gamboa told the Blade.

Mariela Castro supports same-sex marriage

Gay men were among the tens of thousands of people that then-President Fidel Castro sent to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production in the years after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The Communist island’s government forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Gamboa told the Blade that one of the marriage campaign’s biggest challenges is homophobic attitudes among lawmakers and Cuban society.

“These legislators are from the triumph of the revolution with no intention of politicizing the issue,” he said, referring to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Mariela Castro, who is Fidel Castro’s niece, has previously said she supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

She made no public mention of the marriage campaign in two marches she led in Havana and in the city of Matanzas last month that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The National Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, and a representative of the Cuban government in Washington did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the marriage campaign.

Tico Almeida, the gay Cuban American president of Freedom to Work, gave a speech in Havana on May 12 that focused on marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific advocacy efforts in the U.S. Mariela Castro and Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, were among those who were in the audience.

Wolfson and Almeida both told the Blade that they were able to have lunch with Mariela Castro after the event.

“It was a very interesting conversation,” Wolfson told the Blade on June 3 during a telephone interview before he flew to Australia to meet with activists who are campaigning in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. “She (Mariela Castro) spoke about her hope of moving forward the importance of Cuba having the freedom to marry and building on the steps they have taken.”

Almeida expressed a similar sentiment, noting to the Blade on Monday in an email that he and Wolfson spoke with Mariela Castro roughly a year and a half after President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba.

“We had a very thorough and respectful discussion about some topics on which we agree, like marriage equality for same-sex Cuban couples, as well as some topics on which I strongly disagree with the Cuban government,” Almeida told the Blade.

Gamboa is among the Cuban LGBT activists who have criticized Mariela Castro for not publicly supporting the marriage campaign.

He told the Blade that Mariela Castro “was not interested in” the campaign after meeting with Wolfson and Almeida because the activists behind it are not affiliated with CENESEX and her father’s government. The two men met with Gamboa and other advocates who are campaigning for marriage rights for same-sex couples while they were in Cuba.

Wolfson and Almeida also met with U.S. Chief of Mission Jeffrey DeLaurentis at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

“I was proud to help organize Cuba travel for one of my heroes, Evan Wolfson, and I was determined that we would not make the same mistakes as too many Hollywood celebrities and some high-profile LGBT Americans who have attempted to engage on Cuba issues,” Almeida told the Blade, without referring to a specific person.

Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

From left: Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida, U.S. Chief of Mission in Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on May 13, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Tico Almeida/Freedom at Work)

Trans actress Candis Cayne traveled to Cuba last month. She took part in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia march that Mariela Castro led in Havana on May 14.

Cayne has not responded to the Blade’s requests for an interview about her trip to Cuba.

Almeida met with activists in Matanzas and in the city of Cienfuegos while he was on the Communist island.

“I considered it absolutely critical that we meet with the Cuban leaders of the ‘Nosotros También Amamos’ campaign petitioning for marriage equality in Cuba,” he told the Blade.

Activist: Marriage campaign will benefit LGBT Cubans

The U.S. is among the more than a dozen countries that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Two men in the Colombian city of Cali on May 24 became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the South American country. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated his support of nuptials for gays and lesbians last week in the Huffington Post.

Almeida told the Blade that he plans to organize a delegation of LGBT Americans that will travel to Cuba later this year. Gamboa said that he and others who are working on the marriage campaign have spoken with activists in the U.S., Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and other countries.

“We can bring it to Cuba,” he told the Blade, referring to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Juana Mora, a Havana-based activist who met with Obama in March while he was in the Cuban capital, told the Blade on Monday during a Facebook interview that the marriage campaign will benefit LGBT people across the country. These include trans people who she described as “the most vulnerable” to violence and discrimination because of their gender identity.

“Any campaign helps in passing laws in favor of the community,” Mora told the Blade.

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora speaks with the Washington Blade on May 18, 2015, while visiting a friend’s home in Havana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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