By Laura Vargas (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – The Family Code has once again become the focus of controversy and discussion, ever since the Cuban Parliament agreed, on July 23rd, to put the Act up for popular vote in a referendum on September 25th.
This controversy is marked by social and political tension that indicates the forces and struggles of power within Cuban civil society. Meanwhile, feminist movements and LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning) groups have been pushing for legal recognition of their rights for many years.
The imminent possibility that this long-awaited desire may finally come true, with the vote set for September 25th, is sparking new tension.
Legal recognition of same-sex marriage has been a demand that has been postponed many times already. The latest attempt was with Article 68 of the draft Constitution, but Parliament ended up excluding it from the document that was approved in a referendum in 2019, which many people attribute to pressure from conservative groups.
Then it was decided to begin a referendum process of the new Family Code, which would include defining marriage.
Even though the chance this legislation might actually come through is thanks to the constant struggle of LGBTIQ+ and feminism activists, it’s important to point out that rights shouldn’t be put up for popular vote and that in putting the Family Act up for vote, the Cuban Government is wiping its hands clean of the issue and leaving it up to the “people’s will”, abandoning part of the population.
In a landscape where religious fundamentalist and conservative groups are gaining more and more ground and the Cuban Government is losing greater credibility, the LGBTIQ+ community and independent activists are faced with the challenge of swaying the Cuban population to vote in favor of the Act, which is a “yes” for an inclusive society, in keeping with the diverse range of family units that currently exist and recognizing every Cuban’s rights.
Many independent activists came together in Havana on July 27th, to draw up an action plan in the lead-up to the September referendum.
Juana Mora, an independent activist and coordinator of the Cuban Alliance Manos, said that there are plenty of ways to reach different audiences – especially through teaching human rights -, with real life stories to raise people’s awareness, and not only focussing on the LGBTIQ+ movement, but on society as a whole, as the Family Code applies to every Cuban.
The Family Code also covers subjects like parental responsibility, adoption, assisted reproduction, etc. Manuel Rodriguez Yong, an independent activist, says that they need to encourage awareness about matters present in the Code and that involve the elderly, women, and children.
The document deals with domestic abuse with an appropriate gender focus, emphasising protections for the elderly and facilitating procedures for adoption. It also replaces the term “parental authority” with “parental responsibility” and bans child marriage, as well as other breakthroughs linked to protecting children and teenagers.
Political opposition groups, both on the island and in the diasporta, haven’t been strangers to the controversy stirred by the vote. Many of their representatives have openly declared their vote against it or abstention or appealing to people not to go to the polls. Others have lamented their inability to exercise their right to vote in favor of the code because they are in exile.
The law will only be passed if it receives over 50% of the vote in its favor.
Jessica Sabina, an independent activist for LGBTIQ+ rights, says that one of the sectors they really need to focus on are the people who are still indecisive, whether that’s because of a lack of information or because they are following opinion leaders. “Identifying who these groups are and creating specific strategies are our top priorities to ensure a positive result at the polls in September.”
“It’s up to every citizen to weigh what they lose and win with their vote. There are more than enough reasons to vote “yes”, without ignoring the vulnerable situation of Cuban civil society right now with shortages, insalubrity, and human rights violations of its citizens,” Adiel Gonzalez Maimo says, an independent activist for LGBTIQ+ rights and a member of the management team of the community project Matanzas Ciudad Inclusiva.
Many people share the idea that anything that comes from the Government is no good and, in fact, they have made a lot of propaganda about the Act, trying to sell it to international public opinion as a “feat of the Revolution,” in an attempt to clean up its image when it comes to human rights.
However, Yoelkis Torres Tapanes, an independent activist and general coordinator of the community development project AfroAtenAs, highlights that the legislation is a tool to recognize and give social visibility to struggles that have formed a part of Cuban civil society for years.
On the other hand, Yadiel Cepero, an independent activist for LGBTIQ+ rights and member of the management team of the community project Matanzas Ciudad Inclusiva, says that they need to occupy the same spaces fundamentalist groups use, to reach rural and remote communities and to make them understand that the Family Code is an important step in the path towards a more modern and plural society, based on respect for equal rights.
Tools to better understand legal terms stipulated in the document need to be accessible for everyone, Raul Perez Monzon says, an independent activist and coordinator of the LGBTIQ+ History Month space in Cuba.
“Alliances – within the community – with other activist groups could raise awareness in unexplored groups, broadening their views and putting them in a position that goes beyond family relationships, to open themselves to relationships and connections,” independent activist Lidia Romero Moreno says.
The Family Code is indeed a promising law, although there is a significant absence of trans and non-binary people in the document, as well as trans children and their parents’ responsibility. Despite manipulation of the public policy, many independent activists believe that voting in favor of the Family Act is to carry on the (legal) fight for every person’s rights.