Cuba says yes to ‘code of freedom’ for families

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez speaks at the Cuban Mission on Sept. 27. SLL photo: Melinda Butterfield

Sept. 27 – Two days after the historic referendum approving Cuba’s new Code of Families, diplomats held a special briefing at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City. 

The evening gathering was attended by about a hundred people, including progressive attorneys and judges, representatives of nonprofits dedicated to protecting children and LGBTQ2S people, U.N. diplomats from friendly countries, and Cuba solidarity activists. Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., Lianys Torres Rivera, traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend.

Two things were immediately apparent: the immense pride of the Cuban representatives in the victory of the new Code of Families; and the hunger of people from the U.S. to learn from Cuba’s experience in light of ongoing right-wing efforts to roll back people’s rights here.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla opened the meeting. He explained that Cuba’s revolutionary government and mass organizations were long committed to updating and strengthening the country’s 1975 Family Code to reflect modern social realities. 

Originally, Rodríguez explained, equality in marriage rights for same-sex couples and other updated provisions were to be included in the 2019 Constitution. But the democratic consultations throughout Cuban society at that time revealed there was no consensus on these questions. 

It was decided to set the issues aside to permit more discussion and education, leading to the referendum on the Code of Families.

Rodríguez reviewed the enormous obstacles Cuba has faced in the last few years – from the COVID pandemic to climate-change-fueled disasters to last summer’s terrible fuel fire – and of course, underlying all these problems, the tightened U.S. blockade and sabotage. 

“We launched the referendum in these difficult conditions because we are committed to a family model based on social justice,” Rodríguez said. The discussion in the leadup to the Sept. 25 vote “exposed differences, but that it was ratified showed progress.”

‘Expands rights’

Seventy-four percent of the electorate participated in the referendum. Of those who voted, over two-thirds of Cubans said “yes” to the updated code. This is despite a concerted “no” campaign by religious and social conservatives and foreign actors.

The new code is “very progressive,” said Rodríguez. “It expands rights; it doesn’t take away from anybody. It is an act of justice for many people.”

Diplomatic personnel then outlined some of the key points of the new Code of Families and how it was achieved.

They said Cuban and Latin American identity was central to the process of shaping the new code. Family laws throughout the hemisphere were reviewed and pulled from – even U.S. case law. 

The guiding idea is that family plurality, diversity and human dignity are at the center of the Cuban Revolution. The code has an educational and pedagogical nature. 

The definition of a family is now based on affection and emotional ties rather than blood relations, something new in the country’s history. 

It is a “code of freedom” to choose the form of family that works best for its members. It’s a comprehensive code – one of the most advanced laws in the world.

Included in the Code of Families:

  • Protection of all forms of families with no discrimination;
  • The parental relationship is based on responsibilities and duties; 
  • The rights of children and youth, elders and the disabled to independence, dignity,  accessibility and respect;
  • Consequences for violence or other abuse in family situations; 
  • Equality of marriage and common law unions;
  • Gender equality, including for transgender and nonbinary Cubans;
  • Equality of rights in adoption and technologically assisted methods like in vitro fertilization;
  • Duty to contribute to the family and the value of domestic labor;
  • Institutional and community responsibility to uphold these rights.

‘Did not happen overnight’

In response to an audience question about overcoming ingrained sexist and homophobic attitudes, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío explained that the development of consciousness “did not happen overnight. 

“Cuban society has developed greatly over the last 60 years. We have had equal pay for women and men since the 1960s and non-discrimination in education. The process of popular consultation of the last few years has helped, of course.”

Fernández continued: “Cuba’s practice has been to submit changes affecting all of society to popular approval since Fidel proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution. The discussion of the Code of Families was not an exception – it is the practice.”

Speakers explained how the process of consultations was carried out through popular assemblies where experts and members of affected groups explained the aims of the various provisions. From there, “The whole society discussed the proposals in homes, workplaces and mass organizations.”

More than 4,000 proposals were made in the assemblies, many of which were incorporated into the final document. For example, a provision clarifying inheritance rights for same-sex marriages was incorporated from one of these discussions.

In all, the new Code of Families went through 26 revisions before the final vote. Even as late as the 25th draft, there were 255 amendments.

The discussions exposed a generational divide on issues of sexuality and gender, parental responsibility, and children’s rights, and young people were key to educating and winning over their elders.

In conclusion, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said: “We have to keep working hard. We have to deal every day with the 30% who voted against [the new code] and build more consensus in society.” 

Estela Vazquez, a retired leader of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers, summed it up: “This is an incredible achievement — changing the legacy of 500 years of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism.”

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