HAVANA TIMES, July 23 – Recently I received a news summary indicating that Argentina had legalized same sex marriages. In doing so, it became the first country in Latin America to take that step – leaving Cuba behind.
We were the first territory free of illiteracy on the continent, just as it is the country that has placed highest in the Pan-American and Olympic games; it is the Latin American country with the lowest infant mortality rate and the one with the highest heath indexes – rates comparable to those of developed nations. Notwithstanding, it won’t be the first one in guaranteeing that civil right to people who are homosexual.
More than celebrating the fact that gay marriage is legal in Argentina and other countries, I wonder how it’s possible in the 21st century that adult individuals, with the full use of their mental faculties and who are capable of deciding with whom they want to spend their lives, have to wait for the approval of others to do so and for their union to be legal.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the prices we have to pay to live in society: we have to wait for those in power (whether placed there by ourselves or not) to decide what we can do and what we can’t, where we can travel (should they authorize us and give us the real possibilities to do so) and where we can’t, who we can marry and who we can’t. Those are the rights we sacrifice on behalf of some supposed freedom and a certain social order.
In 2008, many of us heard or read in the alternative press that a proposal would be presented to the National Assembly on the legalization of homosexual unions. Today, the bill is still awaiting approval by the parliament.
Over the last few years, the country has advanced in how the issue of homosexuality is dealt with. In 2008 the first “Day against Homophobia” took place in Havana with official approval (otherwise it would never have occurred). In recent years we’ve also seen movies at the cinemas on homosexuals and transgendered people. But no only at the cinema; even on television they have shown Brokeback Mountain, and debates have been featured on the issue. People’s attitudes have indeed changed, at least from what we can appreciate on the surface.
Cubans ability to adapt
But the issue of marriage is more complex. Many leaders have taken the position that the Cuban people are still not ready for that step (as if the Cuban people were only heterosexuals). However, nor were we ready for the dual currency, or to work for a salary of 20 CUCs (about $25 USD a month), or to realize —after hearing for years that we are all equal here— that in reality we aren’t so equal. But we’ve been able to adapt and get used to practically everything.
However, that isn’t what I’m going to talk about right now. Nor will I go into the years when homosexuals were shipped off to Military Units to Aid Production or UMAPs (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción). And nor will I touch on their expulsions from universities and workplaces. All that is now water under the bridge. Without an apology from the government or public acknowledgement of its erroneous policies, all of that is now behind us. From the past, the official discourse only reminds us of our moments of glory.
Now what’s important is that we are close to the legalization of homosexual unions in our country. On January 13 this year, Mariela Castro, who heads the organization Cenesex (put link), congratulated the Mexican Federal District for becoming the first capital of our continent approving gay marriage and said that such legislation is expected in Cuba this year.
Although six months have since gone by and the law is still waiting for approval, there is reason for optimism. Nonetheless, it’s important to point out that the word used in the proposed legislation is “union” not marriage.
So, in Cuba there won’t be precisely homosexual marriage. Mariela Castro notes that studies show that most Cuban lesbians and gays don’t want to get married, what they want is for the relationships to be legally recognized.
Having the alternative or not
For many people (heterosexuals included), marriage is an obsolete institution. In any case, the fact that homosexual marriage doesn’t legally exist in Cuba yet has not prevented many homosexual couples from living together (assuming they’re lucky enough to find space, given the enormous problem of housing in our nation). In other countries marriage is a necessity due to practical and legal questions.
In Cuba it’s different. One needs only live so many years in the same place to obtain the right to that housing; likewise, children born outside of marriage are entitled the same rights as those born to married parents. So why then is it necessary to guarantee the right of homosexuals to get married or at least legalize their situation? Because to date, the rights I’ve mentioned are only guaranteed to heterosexual unions.
In the 1990s crisis, many people got married because it was a way of getting a practically free case of beer paid for by the State, as well as a wedding cake and the opportunity to rent a honeymoon cottage on the beach or room in a hotel. These were the benefits made available to couples, but only to heterosexual ones. Beyond such practical questions, however, the point is one of having the alternative or not.
Currently, heterosexual couples in Cuba can say “we aren’t married because we don’t want to be.” Homosexuals, on the other hand, have to say “we aren’t married because we can’t, we aren’t allowed.” Even after the new family code is approved —which would include homosexual unions— homosexual couples will not be getting married, because this would require changes in the Constitution and that would take much more time.
Therefore, what’s certain is that the Constitution will maintain the same definition of marriage, even if the practice of homosexual unions receives recognition. It will be enough; I wouldn’t say sufficient. And homosexual people will be happy and have reason to be so.
It would be unfair not to recognize the work of Mariela Castro and CENESEX if this law is approved. But I believe this should be considered nothing more than a very important first step. As long as the Constitution doesn’t recognize exactly the same, both heterosexual and homosexual unions we won’t be able to say that equal rights exist.
If marriage is only for procreation
For me it was a fairly elementary question of justice, until I read a copy of the magazine of the Archdioceses of Havana, Palabra Nueva (issue 175, published in 2008). It is known that the overwhelming majority of ecclesiastical institutions oppose homosexual marriage; they even affirm that homosexuality is a deviation from normal human sexuality. In addition they oppose the change in the Family Code even if it doesn’t mean there would be homosexual marriages, which far from hurting anyone would give this segment of the population a fundamental right they currently don’t have.
In one of the paragraphs from that issue of the Church publication (I cannot cite the full text here), it stated, “Since married couples fulfill the role of guaranteeing procreation and therefore are of eminent public interest, this civil right confers them institutional recognition. Homosexual unions, on the contrary, do not demand specific attention in terms of judicial classifications, because they do not fulfill this role for the common good.”
I admit I’m not able to rebut that argument, because it’s true that homosexual unions cannot guarantee the procreation and survival of our species. A man cannot impregnate another man, and nor can a woman get another female pregnant. Children obviously cannot be born of homosexual unions.
Following that logic, though, heterosexuals who are sterile should not be granted the civil right that is conferred upon them by institutional recognition. People who have had children in a first marriage and don’t want to have any more (as well as women who have decided to get their tubes tied), should also be legally prohibited from re-marrying, because they would no longer be contributing to the survival of our species.
In addition, there are couples who simply don’t want to have children. Therefore, before allowing two people to get married, fertility tests should be conducted in addition to making the couple sign a paper committing them to fulfill “the tasks for which marriage and the family deserve specific recognition.”
If we were to accept that the sole objective of matrimonial unions were those of guaranteeing the procreation and survival of the species, not only would many heterosexual couples lose the right to marry, but also we would all become procreating machines in the name of the “common good.”
Although people do not bond solely to have children, many homosexual couples do in fact want to form families that include children. They consequently apply for adoption, just like many married heterosexual couples who cannot conceive.
Adoption is not only be a solution for them, but is also one for many boys and girls in the world who lack a family connection. However there also exist arguments against adoption by couples of the same sex. The previously mentioned issue of Palabra Nueva also expressed those objections of the Catholic Church. However, I believe this is a topic for another article.