Cuba became the latest country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage on Sept. 26, following in the footsteps of Chile and six other countries in LATAM. With the exception of Guatemala, Latin America has slowly become more progressive in its politics over the years, with countries like Mexico and Argentina even decriminalizing abortion. For Cuba, this latest move marks a powerful demonstration of the country’s commitment to lifting restrictions and providing protection to their population’s most vulnerable people. In addition to legalizing same-sex marriage and civil unions, almost 4 million Cuban citizens against 1.95 million voted to ratify an overall “family code.” This will grant protection to women, children, and elderly people against gender violence and redefines “family” as a group of people who love and respect each other (as opposed to the heteronormative nuclear family structure). It also allows same-sex couples to adopt and promotes “equal sharing of domestic rights and responsibilities between men and women,” according to Reuters.
“Yes, we won. Justice has been done,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a tweet. ” To approve the #CódigoDeLasFamilias is to do justice. It is paying off a debt with several generations of Cuban men and women, whose family projects have been waiting for this law for years. Starting today, we will be a better nation.”
Ganó el Sí. Se ha hecho justicia. Aprobar el #CódigoDeLasFamilias es hacer justicia. Es saldar una deuda con varias generaciones de cubanas y cubanos, cuyos proyectos de familia llevan años esperando por esta Ley. A partir de hoy seremos una nación mejor. #ElAmorYaEsLey ❤️🇨🇺 pic.twitter.com/O5o0Hi2cm1
— Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) September 26, 2022
Given the island’s complex history with the LGBTQIA+ community and the importance of Catholicism to the culture, the ratification of the family code is historically groundbreaking. Under Fidel Castro’s rule in the 1960s, people from marginalized or politically opposing backgrounds, including LGBTQIA+ people, were forcibly sent to work camps, with gay men being a particular target. Every day, they were threatened with detention, incarceration, and discrimination, and continued to face such treatment for decades even after homosexuality was legalized in 1979.
Since then, Cuba has become a strong advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights despite cultural machismo and religion. Discrimination based on a person’s sexuality or gender is officially illegal, pride parades are one of the highlights of the country’s annual celebrations, and in 2022, they even became the first country in Latin America to celebrate LGBTQIA+ History Month.
Of course, these changes have been a long time coming. Were it not for overwhelming opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, Cuba would have legalized same-sex marriage in 2018. Today, Evangelical groups continue to oppose progressive measures in favor of LGBTQIA+ people. But after being developed in 2021, this new family code is giving hope to LGBTQIA+ activists and allies, and all who don’t fit under the typical definition of a family. Despite Cuba’s other political issues, including a struggling economy, power outages, and shortages of food, medicine, and fuel, positive changes are happening on the island and setting an example for other countries in Latin America to do the same.