By Leni Villagomez Reeves
More than 40 years after the most recent version of the Cuban constitution was written and almost unanimously approved by referendum, Cubans are presently working on a revision. It is a massive project, which began in 2013, with a working group created to study possible changes. A draft was drawn up with input from the municipal and provincial legislative bodies of the nation, as well as a huge number of neighborhood groups (CDR, Comité de Defensa de la Revolución for its Spanish acronym), workplace and school-based organizations, unions, women’s federation chapters and many other organizations in Cuba.
More than one million copies of the draft were printed, as well as a special supplement to the daily newspaper, with the complete text. About 135,000 meetings were held nationwide, with records kept of suggestions for additions, deletions and changes. The different points of view have been seen as good and necessary. Changes might be made on the basis of this popular input. The final draft will be submitted for a referendum vote.
Some of the features of the current draft:
- Recognition of the role of market forces, and of non-state-owned property, including private property, within a socialist system.
- A broad range of rights in accord with international agreements to which Cuba is signatory—the right to a legal defense and due process, for example. It establishes the possibility of people going to court to claim restoration of rights, or indemnification for harm or damages suffered due to action or omission of state bodies or functionaries in wrongful exercise of their functions.
- The area of equal rights acquires a broader definition, with the addition of new categories: The existing categories for which discrimination is forbidden—for example, sex, race, skin color—are joined by gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic origin and condition of disability.
- The definition of marriage, currently written as “between a man and a woman,” will become Article 68. Marriage is the union voluntarily entered into between two people with the legal ability to do so, with the goal of making a life in common. [author’s translation]
Article 68 is, unfortunately, controversial in Cuba. Cuba has had 30 years of respect-for-diversity and anti-homophobia educational campaign, led by Cenesex, the Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (National Center for Sex Education). This has affected, but hasn’t entirely eliminated, the prejudices of the formerly deeply machista and homophobic society, and it has not changed the minds of those fundamentalist Protestant religious sects that are often linked to counterpart bodies in the U.S. who hold similar views.
With some honorable exceptions, such as the liberation theology based Ebenezer Baptist Church in Marianao, which honor and embrace sexual diversity, the churches are against Article 68. They have been campaigning against it.
When seeing a 20×20 foot full-color banner hanging on a church, reading, “El matrimonio es entre hombre y mujer” (marriage is between a man and a woman), one has two questions. First, who paid for it? This is way outside the means of ordinary people in Cuba. Second, how far will the fundamentalist churches go?
Since the 1990s, the relationship of church and state has been amicable in Cuba. This represents a change from the initial period of the Revolution, which was hostile to religion. Being religious does not presently disqualify people from any position in Cuba or in the Communist Party, and churches are everywhere, as are celebrations of African-based religions.
So far, the churches have confined themselves to saying basically, “We disagree with this constitutional change,” and it is their right to say this. If they move on to say, “Vote no on the constitution because it contains Article 68—gay marriage,” they might step over a line by attempting to force their religious views on a lay state. I doubt the Cuban government would find this acceptable.
The constitution is intended to be a consensus that is the product of the democratic nature of the process, involving a well-informed and well-educated citizenry. The national dialogue should ultimately enrich the constitution and strengthen those who debate the project, the people of Cuba, in the exercise of their rights and duties.
Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local physician and activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.