June 13, 2019 at 7:29 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Puerto Rico governor tells lawmakers to withdraw religious freedom, conversion therapy bills

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, center, talks about bills that would have banned so-called conversion therapy and protect religious freedom in the U.S. commonwealth during a press conference at his official residence in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 23, 2019. Rosselló has asked lawmakers to withdraw the measures amid widespread opposition to them from LGBT activists and their supporters. (Photo courtesy of Adlyn Torres/La Fortaleza)

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Thursday asked lawmakers to withdraw two bills that LGBT activists have sharply criticized.

Rosselló in a statement noted in April he announced the introduction of a measure that would have banned so-called conversion therapy in Puerto Rico with an exemption for “churches and their institutions, members of the clergy and their religious advisors who are acting strictly within their pastoral or religious capacity in the exercise of their fundamental right to religious freedom.” The second bill he announced sought to “clarify certain religious freedom principles” in the U.S. commonwealth.

Johanne Vélez García, president of the governor’s Advisory Council on LGBTT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender) Issues and LGBTT Community Center of Puerto Rico Executive Director Cecilia La Luz, who is also a member of the council, were among those who stood alongside Rosselló as he announced the measures at an April 23 press conference at his official residence in San Juan. Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, Waves Ahead and SAGE Puerto Rico are among the advocacy groups that said the bills would have allowed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the U.S. commonwealth.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who is running for governor, Ricky Martin and others on Tuesday sharply criticized the Puerto Rico House of Representatives after it approved the religious freedom bill.

Representative María Milagros Charbonier of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party that Rosselló chairs, described the measure as “not a discriminatory law” after the vote. Rosselló in his statement said he asked Charbonier and leaders of both chambers of the Puerto Rico Legislature to withdraw the religious freedom and conversion therapy bills from “legislative consideration.”

“Both bills began with the premise of reaching a consensus,” said Rosselló.

Members of Rosselló’s party in the Puerto Rico House on March 18 blocked a vote on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors on the island. Rosselló less than two weeks later signed an executive order that prohibits the widely discredited practice in Puerto Rico.

“My intention has always been to promote mutual respect between different segments of our society,” said Rosselló in his statement. “That is why I always said that I would sign both bills or none of them.”

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, tweeted after Rosselló’s announcement that “love triumphed.”

 

Rosselló’s announcement comes less than two years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Activists on the island with whom the Washington Blade has spoken say Maria has made LGBT Puerto Ricans even more vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

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

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