Cuba Votes on Same-Sex Marriage in Rare Referendum on Sunday

A car passes in front of a billboard in Havana, part of the government’s campaign for the YES vote in the referendum on the new Family Code.

The Cuban Government and all State structures have turned to the “Yes” campaign, including the National Electoral Commission and the Supreme Court.

By Cubaencuentro

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba is taking the Family Code, a legislative package that includes same-sex marriage and surrogacy, to a referendum this Sunday, in an unusual and controversial vote, reports the Efe news agency.

The exercise aims to be the end of a process over several years. It began with the elaboration of the 2019 Constitution and concluded with the approval of the twenty-fifth version of the Family Code in the National Assembly this July, after three months of consultation with citizens in neighborhoods and municipalities.

The text, which replaces a 1975 regulation, contemplates marriage between people of the same sex and the possibility that they adopt, it also regulates “solidarity” pregnancy, the responsibility of parents with their children and the care of the elderly, in addition to banning child marriage and addresses gender-based violence.

See the results of the vote here.

The Government advocates the “Yes”

The Cuban government and all state structures have joined in the “Yes” campaign, including the National Electoral Commission and the Supreme Court, with continuous messages for weeks in official media and social networks.

They argue that the code meets the current reality of Cuban families, expands rights, and better protects minors, the elderly, people with disabilities and vulnerable groups.

The director of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), Mariela Castro, told Efe that the code responds to an “expansion of rights” in the field of family law.

“The Family Code expands and contributes to broadly guaranteeing the rights of all individuals and all families. It contributes to further democratize intergender, intergenerational relations,” she assured.

Arguments for “No”

The “No” vote has not had an articulated campaign or presence in the official media, which allows no points of view that differ from the government / Communist Party line. However, on social networks, activists and some institutions and groups have advocated abstention or rejection of the law.

Some opposition comes from those rejecting the content, and particularly that homosexuals can marry and adopt. This is the case of the Catholic Church, which recently criticized these points in a statement from the Episcopal Conference and asked pepole to vote “in conscience.”

However, a rejection vote is also political. Opponents, dissidents, and activists assure that they will abstain or vote against because they feel the “Yes” entails the legitimization of the communist political system with which they do not agree.

Former Cuban political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque explained to Efe that if she could vote – her civil rights have been suspended due to a conviction – she would opt for abstention.

“I am neither for nor against, because I know the dictatorship, I know how it works and I am convinced that at this time we already know what the result of this plebiscite will be,” she maintains.

Independent journalist María Matienzo also believes that the best option is abstention, as she understands that this referendum has a plebiscitary nature and takes that stance despite belonging to the LGBTIQ community.

“Some civil rights are not more important than others. I do not have rights as a citizen just because I am allowed to get married,” said Matienzo. She also noted that the government has not asked for forgiveness for the homophobic past of the revolution.

Cuban journalist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero explained that he will vote “Yes” for consistency with his years in LGBTIQ activism.

“I am going to vote yes, despite the fact that I have a lot of criticism to make of the Government, a lot of objections to make over this process (…). But since that is the context and we are forced to say yes or no, for me there is no other option but to say yes. We have been working for these rights for a long time,” he said in an interview with Efe.

Numerous people have criticized the idea of submitting the rights of a minority to majority vote in a referendum, when no other law —including the harsh new Penal Code— has faced such a process. Another criticism is that the vote takes place after the Family Code was already published in the Official Gazette this August.

Others interviewed by Efe assure that they will vote against or abstain due to the management of the serious crisis that the country is going through, which has dragged on for two years with shortages of basic products, long lines, frequent blackouts and high inflation.

Polls, abstention and preparations

In the absence of public polls, it is difficult to assess the strength of each camp before the referendum, the third to be held in Cuba since the triumph of the revolution in 1959 and the first on a particular law.

The experts also do not dare to predict the volume of abstentions and its possible meaning in terms of political misunderstanding or rejection of the process.

The Electoral Commission ensures that everything is ready for the consultation. More than eight million Cubans are called to the polls in some 24,000 polling stations.

Cubans who have emigrated or have gone into exile and do not have their residence in Cuba do not have the right to participate. This segment of the population is estimated at around two million people.

Some NGOs without legal status have highlighted the doubts raised by this consultation, as is the case of Electoral Transparency.

Its director, Leandro Querido, criticized in an interview with Efe that it has been a campaign without “guarantees”, that voting day does not have international observers and that, without “cross controls”, the results will be “unverifiable”.

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