Cuba holds an unusual vote on a law allowing same-sex marriage

HAVANA – Cuba on Sunday held a rare referendum on an unusually controversial law — a government-backed “family law” that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt and outlines the rights of children and grandparents.

Cuba holds general elections every two years, although no party other than the Communists are admitted, but it has rarely held referendums on specific laws.

And rarely has an officially endorsed measure drawn so much open criticism as the more than 400-article family law, which has been challenged by many members of the island’s increasingly vocal evangelical community.

The far-reaching code would also allow for surrogacy, broader rights for grandparents in relation to grandchildren, protections for the elderly and action against gender-based violence.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who lobbied for the law, admitted opposition in his vote on Sunday.

“Most of our people will vote for the code, but it still has issues that our society as a whole doesn’t understand,” he said. The results of the referendum are expected on Monday.

Market vendor Miguel Alberto Galindo, 64, said he voted in favor of the measure: “It’s about time homosexuals had the same rights as everyone else,” he said.

But Alejandro Rodríguez, a 33-year-old hardware store worker, said he voted against the measure, saying “some things in the code are good, some things are bad.” He said he disagreed with giving gay couples the same rights as ” normal” families.

The measure was approved by Cuba’s parliament, the National Assembly, after thousands of government-organized informational events this year in neighborhoods across the country.

A key supporter of the measure is Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education, a promoter of rights for same-sex couples, daughter of former President Raul Castro and niece of his brother Fidel.

But there is strong social conservatism in Cuba, where evangelical churches have grown. Several religious leaders have expressed concern or opposition to the law, fearing it could weaken nuclear families.

While Cuba was officially – and often militantly – atheist for decades after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro – Raul’s brother – it has become more tolerant of religions in the last quarter century. This means a greater opening not only to the once dominant Roman Catholic Church, but also to Afro-Cuban religions, Protestants and Muslims.

Some of these churches used the opening in 2018 and 2019 to campaign against another referendum that would have rewritten the constitution to allow same-sex marriage.

The opposition was strong enough that the government backed down.

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Sarah Y. Kim

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