The Cuban Revolution has evolved to be a more inclusive revolution, including all the people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious belief. Whereas the Constitution of 1976 affirmed the equality of all, regardless race, color, sex or national origin (Article 41), the new constitution expands the equal protection clause to include no discrimination for reason of sexual orientation, gender identity, religious belief, or disability. The equal protection clause of the Constitution now reads:
All persons are equal before the law. They are subject to equal duties, they receive the same protection and treatment by the authorities, and they enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities, without any discrimination for reason of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic origin, skin color, religious creed, disability, national origin, or any other distinction damaging to human dignity (Article 42).
In recent years, the revolutionary leadership move toward embracing the international tendency toward affirmation of the rights of gays and transgender persons. However, it did not want to do so in a way that provoked a reaction from religious persons, whom it also wanted to include. So its orientation has been to educate rather than to impose. It has sought consensus, with the intention of avoiding a conflictive divide among the people on the question of religion and homosexuality. The Revolution does not see the question as central to the essence of revolution; that is, a person could be gay or not, or religious or not, and could still be revolutionary (or not). Therefore, the Revolution has sought to ensure consensus and mutual respect among the people on questions related homosexuality and religion.
The Revolution’s orientation toward consensus can be seen in the reaction of the Constitutional Commission to the polemical debate that emerged during the popular consultation with respect to the definition of marriage. The issue here was whether marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman, as formulated in Article 35 of the 1976 Constitution, or as a union between two persons, as expressed in the draft of the new constitution distributed for popular consultation (see “The Cuban people speak” 1/18/2019 and “Cuban Constitutional Commission Reports” 1/21/2019). The Commission responded to the polemical debate by modifying the language of the proposed new constitution. The modified proposal removes the 1976 definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but at the same time, it does not define the subjects that enter a marital union, thus deferring the debate to a later moment. In its transitional dispositions, the new Constitution directs the National Assembly to develop a family code on the basis of a popular consultation, which should be submitted to popular referendum. In addition, the new Constitution recognize the diversity of marriage and family forms in Cuban society. Its chapter on the theme is entitled “Families,” in contrast to the 1976 title, “The Family” (Articles 81-82 in the new constitution; Articles 34-35 in the 1976 Constitution).
Thus, the new Cuban constitution, in the form modified by the Commission, has a progressive character with respect to LGBT rights, taking into account various related articles. In Article 42, it affirms the rights of all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Articles 81-82 remove the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and they affirm the diversity of marriage and family forms. The new Constitution mandates a popular consultation on the family, which will provide extended opportunity for the people to debate the theme of gay marriage, in which defenders of gay rights will seek to educate the people with respect to scientific evidence and international tendencies.
At the same time, the Constitutional Commission has arrived to this progressive proclamation and agenda in a manner that is respectful of the people who are opposed to a legal recognition of gay marriage. The Commission sought to formulate a constitutional foundation that would have consensual support. It withdrew its formulation of marriage as a “union between two persons;” and it included in the new Constitution a requirement for a final popular referendum on a new family code, not wanting to impose legalization of gay marriage on the people, if the popular consultation does not persuade them.
In this approach to a polemical issue, the Cuban Revolution reflects a historic principle: the people must be respected. If, as a result of pervasive confusions and distortions, the people have an unscientific or an unreasonable idea, they must be educated and persuaded; the political will of an “enlightened” minority can never be imposed.
Although the Constitution of 1976 affirmed freedom of religious beliefs and practices, it nonetheless maintained that the state bases its activities and educates the people on a “materialist, scientific conception of the universe” (Article 54). However, during the 1970s and 1980s, there was evolving a more inclusive orientation of the revolutionary leadership, recognizing that the Revolution’s conflict with the Catholic Church in 1960s was not religious but political, and it did not result from an antireligious attitude by the Revolution (Castro 1985). Reflecting this evolution, the Constitutional Reform of 1992 declares that the Cuban State is not an atheist State but a lay State, and it declares the separation between Church and State (Díaz 2011:71). In the new Constitution set for referendum on February 24, 2019, the article guaranteeing religious freedom (Article 57) clearly and fully affirms the rights of religious believers.
The equal protection clause of the new Constitution (Article 42, cited above) includes disabled persons, whereas the Constitution of 1976 did not. However, the rights and special needs of the disabled has been respected in practice in Cuban society since 1959, with schools and hospitals being provided for those in need. The inclusion of disabled persons in the equal protection clause is not a reflection of change in Cuban society; rather, it is a reflection of the greater international tendency in this direction as well as of a desire to give a constitutional foundation to the practice.
In addition to be being more inclusive with respect to the LBFT community and religious persons, the Cuban Revolution has also evolved to be more inclusive with respect to self-employed persons and small capitalists, defining them as part of the revolutionary people that are constructing socialism. This evolution has occurred as a result of the need for the Cuban Revolution to be more pragmatic with respect to its socialist economy. This will be the theme of our next post.
Castro, Fidel. 1985. Fidel y La Religión: Conversaciones con Frei Betto. La Habana: Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado. [English translation: Fidel and Religion: Conversations with Frei Betto on Marxism and Liberation Theology. Melbourne: Ocean Press].
Díaz Sotolongo, Roberto. 2011. La Constitución. La Habana: Ediciones ONBC.