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Cuban lawmakers approve draft of new family code

Proposal could pave way for marriage equality

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — Cuban lawmakers on Tuesday approved a draft of a new family code that could pave the way for marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country.

Cubadebate, an official news website, reported the National Assembly approved the draft that does not contain a specific marriage equality provision. The proposal, however, states it would “protect all expressions of family diversity and each person’s right to build a family in coherence with the (Cuban) constitution and its principles of equity, non-discrimination and human dignity.”

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who is the director of the National Center for Sexual Education, is among the members of the National Assembly who spoke in favor of the draft.

“It will guarantee the rights of groups of people whose realities were not sufficiently understood at the beginning of the revolutionary process,” said Mariela Castro before the vote, according to Cubadebate.

Mariela Castro in her comments referred to the Cuban revolution that brought her uncle, Fidel Castro, to power in 1959.

The Cuban government after the revolution sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAPs. Cubans with AIDS were forcibly quarantined in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

“This bill does resemble the society in which we live: A complex, diverse and plural society,” said Mariela Castro.

Cubadebate reported Cubans will have a chance to comment on the bill during a “popular consultation” that will take place from Feb. 1-April 30, 2022.

Cuban voters in 2019 overwhelmingly approved the draft of their country’s new constitution, but independent LGBTQ activists sharply criticized the government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment before the referendum on it. Tremenda Nota, the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the government has not announced when a referendum on the new family code will take place.

Tuesday’s vote took place less than six months after anti-government protests took place across Cuba.

Tremenda Nota Editor Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during the protests.

Yoan de la Cruz, who is gay, used Facebook Live to livestream the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province.

Authorities subsequently arrested De La Cruz, and they are seeking an 8-year prison sentence for him. De La Cruz’s trial reportedly began on Dec. 13.

Yoan de la Cruz is a gay man who broadcast to the world the first videos of the anti-government protests in Cuba that took place on July 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)
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Colonial-era Antigua and Barbuda sodomy law struck down

Unclear whether government will repeal decision

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Antigua and Barbuda (Image by Allexxandar via Bigstock)

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda — A judge on Tuesday ruled provisions of a law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations in Antigua and Barbuda are unconstitutional.

High Court Judge Marissa Robertson, who sits on the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, a regional judicial authority, in her ruling said sections 12 and 15 of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act 1995 “are unconstitutional as they contravene” Antigua and Barbuda’s constitution.

“Section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1995 offends the right to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of personal privacy and protection from discrimination on the basis of sex, in so far as section 12 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is inconsistent with the rights of persons sixteen (16) years and older to engage in consensual sexual intercourse per anum in private, and to the extent of that inconsistency section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1995 is void,” said Robertson.

Robertson in her decision said section 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 “offends the right to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of personal privacy and protection from discrimination on the basis of sex, in so far as section 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is inconsistent with the rights of persons sixteen (16) years and older to engage consensually and in private in the sexual acts described in section 15(3), and to the extent of that inconsistency section 15 of the Sexual Offenses Act 1995 is void.”

Orden David, a gay man who works for the Antigua and Barbuda Health Ministry and is the executive director of Meeting Emotional and Social Needs Historically (MESH) Antigua and Barbuda, a support group for LGBTQ and intersex people in the country, and Women Against Rape, an NGO that works with those who are impacted by gender-based violence, formally challenged the law.

“This judgment is a significant milestone in the history of Antigua and Barbuda,” said Women Against Rape President Alexandrina Wong on Wednesday during a virtual press conference the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE), a regional LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, organized. 

“Members of the LGBT community and consenting adults who choose to engage in intimacy can now breath a sigh of relief, because at least there is safety under the law,” added Wong.

ECADE Executive Director Kenita Placide, who is based in St. Lucia, during the press conference described the ruling as a “landmark decision.”

“The process of litigation is important, as it underscores how these laws contribute to the stigmatization of LGBTQI people, how they legitimize hate speech, discrimination and violence and tears at the fabric of our society,” said Placide in a statement. “Our governments have sworn to protect and uphold the rights of all and act in a manner that promotes the prosperity and well-being of all. This judgment is in keeping with this commitment.”

Antigua and Barbuda Sen. Aziza Lake also welcomed Tuesday’s ruling.

“It is a long overdue development,” Lake told the Washington Blade. “The government has no business in the bedrooms of consenting adults.”

Colonial-era laws that criminalize homosexuality remain in place in St. Lucia and other former English colonies in the Caribbean.

The Belizean Court of Appeal in late 2019 upheld a ruling that struck down the country’s sodomy law. A judge on the Trinidad and Tobago High Court in 2018 struck down its statute that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year in a landmark decision said Jamaica must repeal its sodomy law. ECADE noted similar cases have been filed in St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who currently advises embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, last December told the Blade during an interview in D.C. that his country has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”

“Great news from Antigua and Barbuda as the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court strikes down laws criminalizing consensual same-sex activity,” tweeted Herbert on Wednesday. “[It is a] historic achievement for the people of Antigua and Barbuda and another welcome step forward for LGBT+ rights globally.”

The Associated Press reported the Antigua and Barbuda government has yet to announce whether it will appeal Robertson’s ruling. 

Glenroy Murray, executive director of J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, on Wednesday told the Blade he remains hopeful the decision will resonate throughout the region. 

“I am excited to see Antigua and Barbuda have this ruling and I am hopeful for what this will mean for the rest of the eastern Caribbean, given the similarities of their constitutional framework,” said Murray. “The ruling demonstrated how the strategic litigation in other parts of the Caribbean have led to positive impacts and that trend bodes well for LGBTQ+ rights in the region overall.”

Murray further noted the ruling “will not directly impact the current challenge to Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws, which has lingered far too long in our courts.” Murray added “it definitely sends a positive signal to our legislators that times are changing in the Caribbean.”

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Final vote on new Cuba family code slated for September

Same-sex couples poised to receive marriage, adoption rights

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HAVANA — The Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba is reporting a final referendum on whether the final draft of a new family code that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples will take place in September.

Tremenda Nota on June 23 reported a specific date for the referendum has not been announced, but it quoted comments President Miguel Díaz-Canel made the day before during a meeting of the commission that has written the draft. 

“We are entering a decisive stage,” said Díaz-Canel, according to Tremenda Nota. “We are going to need all the support that we need to ensure the emancipatory principles of equality and inclusion that the family code defends are actually approved.”

The National Assembly late last year approved the draft family code. 

A “popular consultation” ended on April 30. Tremenda Nota reported the last of the family code’s 25 drafts was presented to Díaz-Canel and other officials on June 6.

Díaz Canel and Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, are among those who publicly support marriage equality. Cuban voters in 2019 overwhelmingly approved the draft of their country’s new constitution, but the government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment before the referendum on it sparked outrage among independent LGBTQ+ and intersex activists.

Efforts to implement the new family code are taking place against the backdrop of continued persecution of LGBTQ+ and intersex Cubans and others who publicly criticize the country’s government.

Tremenda Nota Editor Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, 2021.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province. De La Cruz subsequently received a 6-year prison sentence, but he was released on house arrest last month.

Reports indicate Brenda Díaz, a Transgender woman who was arrested during a July 11 protest in Güira de Melena in Artemisa province, on Wednesday received a 14-year prison sentence. 

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota’s original story is here.

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Caribbean

Gay man who livestreamed Cuba anti-government protest released from prison

Yoan de la Cruz received 6-year sentence

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Yoan de la Cruz is a gay man who broadcast to the world the first videos of the anti-government protests in Cuba that took place on July 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

HAVANA — A gay man who received a 6-year prison sentence for live-streaming an anti-government protest in Cuba has been released.

Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, and sources on the island on Friday confirmed Yoan de la Cruz’s release from prison.

De La Cruz on July 11, 2021, used Facebook Live to livestream a protest in San Antonio de los Baños, a municipality in Artemisa province that is just west of Havana. The protest is one of dozens against the Cuban government that took place across the country on the same day.

A Havana court in March sentenced De La Cruz to six years in prison.

De La Cruz’s mother described the sentence as an “injustice” and said her son’s health deteriorated while in prison. One source in Cuba told the Blade that authorities sentenced De La Cruz to five years of house arrest after the original sentence was appealed.

The Blade will provide additional details as they become available.

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