Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Referendum on the New Family Code


Liberalization versus Democratization in Cuba?

Debates about the Family Code are open on the Island…and faith accompanies them. 

“Article 197. Marriage.1. Marriage is the voluntarily arranged union of two people with legal capacity to do so, in order to live together, on the basis of affection, love and mutual respect. Family Code Project .

Cuba debates, and is about to decide in a national referendum scheduled for this September 25, the authorization to expand the legal option of a marriage to include two people of the same sex. The Family Code, in force since 1975, authorizes them only between a man and a woman. The text cited above was published in the  Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba  last January, to allow a broad and public debate, culminating in that national referendum.

There is thus a dilemma between social liberalization and political democratization. On the one hand, the expansion of the option of formal marriage between two people, regardless of their sex, characterizes liberalization processes in this century in many different countries. At the same time, resorting to a national referendum on this issue opens up the option of democratic opportunism, regardless of the underlying issue. Should a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage vote against the project sponsored by the government and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), defeating them for the first time since the 1960s, thus sacrificing this liberalization to accelerate democratization?

They are not abstract questions or alien to reality. In public debates at the national level in 2018 and again in 2021, there is organized opposition to the ruling project. It is no longer the same type of Cuban political regime that crushed any hint of opposition for any reason. It continues to be an authoritarian regime in the face of protests against the regime itself, but it already allows a margin of opposition to certain specific policies, as is the case with the Family Code project.

This dilemma, and this same issue in relation to marriage, arose in 2018 during the discussion of the draft Constitution, submitted to a national referendum on February 24, 2019. An initial version proposed marriage between two people, without specifying man or woman. , in order to expand the option of a marriage to two people of the same sex. It turned out to be the idea that aroused the most opposition during the public debate on the draft. The government, to avoid shipwreck, modified it. Article 82 of the 2019 Constitution reads as follows: “[Marriage] is founded on free consent and on the equality of rights, obligations and legal capacity of the spouses. The law determines the form in which it is constituted and its effects. 

It differs from the previous one in 2018 for three reasons. First, the precedent has been set that, faced with evidence of opposition, the government changes course. Second, the outbreak of protests on July 11, 2021, throughout the island, unprecedented in magnitude since the 1960s, and other minor demonstrations before and after, indicate the political vulnerability of the government and the PCC. Third, there is social and economic discontent, generators of the political,  which President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself recognized this past April.: “Now we are joined by problems of water supply with drought, inflation, high prices, endless queues, transportation problems, and all of that is causing stress, discomfort; also the instabilities that we have had in the national electricity service, which have caused the uncomfortable blackouts”. After more than a decade with poor economic results, there is a breeding ground for the opposition.

There is also an element of continuity between the debates during 2018 and 2021: the organized opposition of certain faith communities. It was a reason for the modification of the constitutional article, and it resurfaces strongly in the debate on the Family Code. Examples include the opposition of three religious bodies.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba  argued in February 2022  that during "the discussion prior to the approval of the current Constitution of 2019... the majority of Cubans wanted the definition of marriage to be maintained as the union of a man and a woman , as it appears in the current Family Code of 1975”. In addition, they are alarmed by the supposed "gender ideology" that they consider permeates the new Code, as well as the new proposals in relation to "solidarity gestation", "assisted filiation", and the adoption that would be possible for a marriage between people of same sex.

The Baptist Convention of Western Cuba,  in April 2022, had an impact in a  similar way and tone, in this case through a vote of its assembly. Opposes same-sex marriage, assisted pregnancy, personal affirmation of a gender identity, the concept of sexual fluidity, and sex education programs introduced in 2021 by the Ministry of Education.

The Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba, also through a vote of its assembly,  affirmed : "We do not accept under any circumstances that in order to please the preferences of a minority of citizens, the rights and preferences of the majority are violated and ignored, thus affecting democratic principles that consolidate the unity of a nation”. That "we do not accept under any circumstances" is repeated seven times in this short and angry text, which protests the new measures on gender, sexuality, marriage and education proposed by the government and the PCC.

HAVANA, CUBA: Cubans Wendy Iriepa (right) and Ignacio Estrada (left) wave a gay pride flag as they drive off in a vintage American car after their wedding on August 13, 2011 in Havana, Cuba. It is the first legal transgender wedding in the country. (Photo by Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photo/Getty Images)

But do they preach in vain? Is the project in danger? Between February and April 2022,  according to their report official to the National Assembly of People's Power, the National Electoral Council convened 79,129 meetings attended by more than six million people; 336,595 people spoke who formulated 434,860 criteria. Of those, affirmed the Council, 61.96 were in favor of the new Code. However, only 39.96 indicated their full support (“I agree”). Another 19.66% expressed their support, but conditioned to changes in the text, while 12.06% opposed the Code itself, 1.62% expressed their doubts and the rest could not specify their position well. The most discussed issues were marriage, adoption, assisted pregnancy, parental responsibility and domestic violence. Even assuming that 62% support is reliable, it implies 38% opposition to a political regime accustomed to demanding “unity”.

If only 40% of the electorate is really in favor, the defeat of the ruling party would be equivalent to an earthquake. That opposition is made up of three very different categories of people. One is those who agree with the Catholic Bishops and the Baptist conventions and, furthermore, respond to their beliefs rather than to possible support, for other reasons, of the government or the PCC. Within these religious ranks there will be those who oppose liberalization in these matters as well as the government and the PCC, perhaps the most consistent in casting their opposition vote in the referendum.

A second opposition category may be those who support the social liberalization that the new Code registers, but do not want to pass up the opportunity to defeat the government and the PCC for the sake of accelerating the democratization processes. These matter more than social liberalization.

And a third category is that of those who generally support the government and the PCC, including some of its members, but who oppose the substantive issues in the new Code. The PCC does not come from a liberal history. In the 1960s, the Military Production Support Units (UMAP) were the punitive destination of thousands of alleged homosexuals. In 1980, acts of repudiation fueled the massive departure of alleged homosexuals from the country. In that decade, the government's initial response to the scourge of AIDS was to lock up any victim of the infection, forcing them to leave their jobs and families, regardless of their personal behavior. It is not surprising, therefore,

The voters of a tacit and unusual coalition remain in favor of him. Some support an authoritarian political regime while being liberal regarding sexuality and gender identity. Others oppose this authoritarian political regime, but value this liberalizing gesture embodied in the new Code.

The debates on the Family Code have already shaped the old political regime, opening its doors to the opposition organized for reasons of faith. But, in addition, they have raised ideological tensions both within the ruling party and within the opposition. This referendum is one more step in the slow and tortuous path of change in Cuba.

uncorrected AI translation; Spanish original


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