December 18, 2018 at 11:29 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Marriage amendment removed from new Cuba constitution

The Cuban Capitol in Havana on Dec. 16, 2018. The country’s government has announced an amendment that would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples has been removed from the draft of a new constitution. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — The Cuban government on Tuesday announced the draft of the country’s new constitution will not contain an amendment that would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Hatzel Vela, a Havana-based reporter for WPLG, a South Florida television station, reported the Cuban National Assembly cited Council of State Secretary Homero Acosta Álvarez in a series of tweets that explained the decision.

One of the tweets said the marriage amendment was removed in order “to respect all opinions.”

Tuesday’s announcement comes after the Cuban government held meetings that allowed members of the public to comment on the draft new constitution. Cubadebate, a state-run news website, reported “the majority proposed to substitute the concerted union between two people and return it to between a man and a woman as it is in the current constitution.”

President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who is a member of the National Assembly and spearheads LGBTI-specific issues as director of the National Center for Sexual Education, both publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Evangelical church groups on the Communist island have publicly expressed their opposition to the issue.

Isel Calzadilla Acosta, an activist in the city of Santiago in eastern Cuba who works with Mariela Castro and her organization, is among those who expressed disappointment over Tuesday’s announcement.

“Our LGBT community is still excluded, without rights,” wrote Calzadilla on her Facebook page. “Where is social justice? Where is the debt of the Cuban government with so many people who are discriminated against, humiliated, mistreated and violated? We are going back to the 1960s. It is a big pity.”

Activist: Family Code could guarantee marriage rights

The marriage debate is taking place nearly 60 years Mariela Castro’s uncle, Fidel Castro, came to power in the Cuban revolution.

Gay men were among those who were sent to work camps — known as Military Units to Aid Production or UMAPs — during the 1960s. Fidel Castro in 2010 apologized for the camps during an interview with a Mexican newspaper.

Supporters of Mariela Castro, among other things, note Cuba now offers free sex-reassignment surgeries through its national health care. Independent activists and journalists with whom the Washington Blade regularly speak say they face harassment and even arrest if they publicly criticize Mariela Castro and/or the Cuban government.

A referendum on the proposed new constitution will take place on Feb. 24. The National Assembly on Tuesday said the country’s Family Code will determine who can legally marry.

A privately-owned coffee shop in Havana on Dec. 14, 2018, had a sign that highlights its support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cuba. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, on Tuesday wrote this announcement “must also be seen as an opportunity for activism (around the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples) in the near term.”

“The conception, study and discussion of this law will be another process that will allow us to keep the issue of rights for LGBTI people at the center of public debate,” he added.

Mariela Castro on Tuesday echoed Rodríguez in a series of tweets.

“The essence of Article 68 remains, the fight continues, now lets say yes to the constitution and then lets rally to get a Family Code as advanced as the new constitutional text,” wrote Mariela Castro in one tweet. “Cuba is ours, Cuba is for everyone.”

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota, an independent Cuban e-zine that covers the LGBTI community and other minority groups, is the Blade’s media partner in Cuba. Tremenda Nota will provide additional updates on Tuesday’s announcement and its implications for the movement in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cuba.

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

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