Cuba eliminates gay marriage language from new constitution

Proposal drew protests from evangelical churches

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent

HAVANA - Cuba's government said Tuesday that language promoting the legalization of gay marriage will be removed from the draft of a new constitution after widespread popular rejection of the idea.

The new draft is the result of a three-month public debate where the majority of those who spoke on the issue were in favor of leaving the constitution as it is, meaning that marriage should be between a man and woman. 

On Wednesday morning, following confusion among the population and the press, high ranking Cuban officials tried to clear up gay marriage was not completely out of the picture. 

The issue will likely go up for public debate, then a vote at the National Assembly and possibly a public referendum in two years. 

Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban President Raul Castro and gay rights advocate, has been spearheading the movement for gay marriage. 

In several tweets, Castro said the fight was not over. 

"We are not giving up. We will not give in to the fundamentalist blackmail and backwards thinking," she wrote in one of the tweets. 

Castro, who is also is a lawmaker, has helped rehabilitate Cuba's international image on LGBTQ rights after the Castro-led communist government sent gay men to work camps in the 1960s. Widespread persecution continued through the 1970s.

Gay rights advocates had proposed eliminating the description of marriage as a union of a man and woman, changing it to the union of "two people ... with absolutely equal rights and obligations."

"We know we live in a 'machista' country," said Juana Mora Cedeno, an independent gay activist, who also argues that reality is ingrained not just in Cuban society but in the Cuban government.  

"Now we have to wait until our society says 'yes'" said Mora Cedeno, who called the removal of the language a setback for gay rights. 

She adds human rights should not be left for societies to decide and feels more gay activists will organize to vote against the proposed constitution, which is expected to go up for approval at a public referendum in February 2019. 

The initial change drew protests from evangelical churches and ordinary citizens in months of public meetings on the new constitution.

While Havana and some other Cuban cities have flourishing gay communities, anti-homosexual attitudes remain deeply rooted among much of the population. 

Cubans who ordinarily shy from open criticism of the government spoke out in large numbers against the proposed constitutional Article 68 promoting gay marriage during public consultations on the draft constitution throughout the year.

The marriage issue, according to state run press, was brought up at 66% of the meetings where 192,408 people addressed the issue. 

Cuba's rapidly growing evangelical churches also staked out positions against the article, increasing pressure on a government unused to public pushback.

"It's been a total victory," said Bishop Ricardo Pereira Diaz of Cuba's Methodist Church, which for the first time in post revolutionary Cuba organized and became active in opposing the gay marriage language in the proposed constitution.

Pereira Diaz said many people told them not to do anything because no one would listen, but the church collected 179,000 signatures and now the Cuban government is paying attention.

News of the change came by way of several tweets, where Cuba's National Assembly account cited Homero Acosta, the council of state Secretary who has been charged with explaining the changes.

Translated from Spanish, the tweet said, "The [Constitutional] Commission proposes to defer the concept of marriage, meaning it'd be taken out of the constitutional project, as a way to respect all opinions. Marriage is a social and jurisdictional institution. The law will define the rest of its elements."

Another tweet said, "The Family Code should establish who can engage in marriage..."

The Constitutional Commission is headed by Communist Party head and former president Raul Castro.

Gay marriage not the only issue

On the issue of presidential terms currently delineated in Article 121, the most common opinion was against limiting to two terms as currently proposed and that a maximum age in which one could serve should also be eliminated. 

Some 11,080 people asked for direct elections as opposed to the current system where the National Assembly picks the president. 

And in 15,132 meetings, 182,000 Cubans brought up the right of having access to an attorney at the time of an arrest.

Of all the proposals, 50.1 percent were accepted and 49.9 percent were rejected, because they weren't constitutional content or details that didn't make sense when it comes to constitutional logic, Acosta said. 

The dropping of the gay marriage language is the third dramatic reversal this month for a government that for decades has issued most laws and regulations with little public debate or insight into the working of the ruling Communist Party.

The government last week eliminated some of the most-disliked sections of new restrictions on entrepreneurs that were met with widespread public criticism. And tough new limits on artistic expression were delayed after protests and complaints from Cuban artists.

The new laws were announced in July, three months after President Miguel Diaz-Canel took office, and generated bitter complaints from entrepreneurs and artists. 

The measures included limits on the number of business licenses per household and barred more than 50 seats at private restaurants. They also granted a corps of cultural "inspectors" the power to immediately close any art exhibition or performance found to violate Cuba's socialist revolutionary values.

On Dec. 4, the country's vice minister of culture said the art regulation would be delayed and the inspectors' power would be limited to making recommendations to higher-ranking cultural officials. In addition, they will not be able to inspect any studio or home that is not open to the public.

The next day, the government eliminated the limits on restaurant tables and business licenses, along with new taxes and financial requirements for entrepreneurs.

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