“Activists said that the campaign for a yes vote, which included discussion programmes on television, adverts and billboards, also had a positive impact in itself on confronting homophobia and machismo.”
By Natasha Hickman, Cuba Solidarity Campaign
On 25 September 2022, the Cuban people voted to adopt what has been described by many as the most progressive Family Code in the world. In a national referendum, 66.87% of voters approved legislation which includes the right to marriage, adoption and assisted reproduction for same-sex couples, and redefines what it means to be a family, putting an emphasis on love, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination.
The referendum came after a six-month period of consultation which saw 79,000 neighbourhood meetings, generated 434,000 comments and proposals, and resulted in 49% of the original draft being modified in response to public feedback. The draft presented in the referendum was the 25th version of the document, which had been revised by experts and specialist commissions before receiving final approval by the National Assembly. Turn-out for the final vote on 26 September was 74%.
The new code also guaranteed rights for vulnerable people in society including the elderly, children, adolescents and people with disabilities as well as enshrining women’s reproductive rights. Cuba was the first country to legalise abortion in Latin America in 1965.
The referendum result followed years of work by LGBT+ activists in Cuba, including lobbying and educating by Cuba’s Centre for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).
Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who had called publicly for a yes vote, asked Cubans to “look at it with our hearts and also vote for it with our hearts, it will be voting for Cuba”.
Activists said that the campaign for a yes vote, which included discussion programmes on television, adverts and billboards, also had a positive impact in itself on confronting homophobia and machismo, and that attitudes shifted with the discussion ahead of the referendum.
Opposition to the Code came from conservative religious groups including the Catholic and new US-backed evangelical churches. As well as campaigning against what they said was a threat to the “original” family, some opposition groups had been calling for people to vote no as a protest vote against the government and the difficult economic situation in the country. Rafael Hernández, editor of the Cuban magazine Temas, commented that “politicising the code is a way of trying to further polarise the national situation.”
Some of the highlights of the more than 400 articles that make up the code include:
- Equal marriage and adoption rights regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
- Parental rights can now be shared among extended and “non-traditional” family structures, including grandparents, step-parents, and surrogate parents.
- The right to assisted reproduction.
- The extension of labour rights to those who care full-time for children, seniors, or people with disabilities.
The code also promotes equal sharing of domestic responsibilities among household members and notes that parents have “responsibility” for children rather than “custody” over them, and they must therefore respect the dignity and integrity of the children and adolescents in their family.
In the month following the vote, Cuba registered 75 same-sex marriages, accounting for more than 2% of marriages reported in October 2022.
Describing the new legislation, Cuban journalist Beatriz Ramírez López wrote: “For children and teenagers, grandparents, people with disabilities and people in vulnerable conditions, people who have been discriminated against, men and women alike, groups of people who have been historically rendered invisible… This is a Code that does not exclude them. A Code of rights and love.”