Cuba just passed a historic change to a law that legalized marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, following a referendum that saw Cubans vote to reform the communist island's existing legal code on the issue. The change marks a stark contrast from the communist-run island’s troubled past with the persecution of its LGBTQ community.
Cubans headed to the polls on Sept. 25 to vote on a major overhaul of a four-decade-old “family code” that provides increased rights for the elderly, women, and children, and additional rights for LGBTQ people.
The vote to the government-backed changes to the law were unique in that it received particularly fierce resistance from some subsections of the Cuban population, particularly from members of the country’s growing evangelical movement and factions of the Communist Party.
The communist Cuban government rarely holds referendums on their laws with votes from the general public. Vocal opposition to laws that are supported by the longstanding ruling party is even less common.
But even with the opposition, the change to the law appears to have passed after 66.87 percent of voters in the referendum approved the measures with three-quarters of the ballots counted, according to the Cuban government on Monday. Video of President Miguel Díaz-Canel learning of the results during a government meeting showed the Cuban leader smiling and applauding the decision. He was a proponent of the referendum and his government organized thousands of information sessions ahead of the vote in neighborhoods throughout the country.
The allowance of same-sex marriage and adoption could hardly have been imagined in Cuba just 60 years ago.
After the Cuban revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro’s government engaged in a widespread persecution of the country’s gay community. Many people were rounded up and sent to “reeducation” labor camps along with other political dissidents and religious figures. While Castro later apologized for the way the country’s gay community was treated at the time, the full scope of the persecution and those affected still remains a mystery. Twenty years later, in 1979, Cuba under Castro legalized homosexuality but discrimination continued.
Over the past decade or so, one of the main promoters of greater rights for the country’s LGBTQ community has come from within the Castro family. Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raúl Castro—former Cuban president and Fidel Castro’s brother—became a prominent advocate for LGBTQ rights through a government-funded center on the island.
In 2018, the Cuban government gave up on a plan to legalize same-sex marriage following rampant homophobic backlash from religious groups and civilians.
But less that four years later, history was made in Cuba. The changes to the family code go beyond the advances for the country’s LGBTQ community. It also allows surrogate pregnancies, measures against gender violence, and broader rights for the elderly.
Cuba’s LGBTQ community took to the internet to celebrate the change to the law. Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a prominent activist and gay man living with HIV who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, tweeted an image of the results saying in Spanish “what the people have done, has no name” with the hashtag #CubaEsAmor.
He then retweeted a reply from a follower that says in Spanish, “Yes, it has a name Paco: Love. A lot of Love.”