Victory in Cuba – New Family Code Affirms Equality within Family Life

Image by Juan Luis Ozaez.

The Cuban people, voting in a national plebiscite on September 25, approved a new Family Code. According to the National Electoral Council, preliminary results showed that of almost six million Cubans casting a valid ballot, 66.9% voted Yes; 33.1% voted No. The new Code was left-over business from a new Cuban Constitution approved on April 10, 2019.

The Code promises all Cubans protection of democratic and legal rights, old and new, within the context of family life. It’s a revision of the Family Code contained in Cuba’s Constitution of 1976. The impulse for a new one stemmed from recognition since then, worldwide and in Cuba, that notions of sexual diversity and gender equality are expanding.

The opportunity came in 2018. A Constituent Assembly that year undertook extensive alterations of the 1976 Constitution. In the process – It became really a new Constitution – opposition cropped up in the Assembly and in public consultations to provisions in the proposed Family Code, specifically authorization of same-sex marriages and allowance for gay people to adopt children.

The Assembly determined that the process “should be pursued in more depth.” The new Constitution ended up with a provision for creating a new Family Code later on and approving it by “attending to the results of a plebiscite” taking place in two years. The Covid-19 pandemic caused delay of the plebiscite until now.

The resulting Family Code would protect the right of same- sex marriage and the right of same-sex parents to adopt children. The first article under the title “Marriage” in the final document – there are 301 articles under that heading – states that, “Marriage is the voluntary union agreed to by two legally competent persons with the purpose of living life in common …” Similarly, provisions relating to adoptive parenting refer exclusively to “persons.” The message is that marriage does not have to require a man and woman.

The government carried out vigorous publicity efforts on behalf of the new Code. In nationally televised remarks to the country on September 22, President Miguel Díaz-Canel called upon Cubans “to participate in an action of enormous responsibility.” Catholic clergy and evangelical churches mounted opposition campaigns. The anti-government Havana Times noted that, up against distress in Cuba and sharply increased migration, the Code was just “Bla, Bla, Bla.”

The view here is that the new Code epitomizes Cuba’s zeal, revolutionary in nature, to assure that family life in Cuba is characterized by equality, democratic rights, and protection. The reach of the Code is vast. It extends to all aspects of family life and establishes principles and values fit for guiding citizens in their conduct of family relationships and the state in prescribing for family life.

The Code presented on September 25 was a 63-page document that, on line, displays 11 “titles” representing major categories, dozens of chapters, hundreds of articles, and 2283 paragraphs. Subjects that are covered, all pertaining to family life, include: protection of the rights of children, women, elderly people, persons with disabilities, and members of the LBGTQ communities; arrangement for the handling of property and money; duties and responsibilities, adoption of children and custody arrangements; the special needs and rights of elders and persons with disabilities, and, lastly, aspects of marriage and of parenting and becoming a parent.

The Family Code begins by outlining purposes. Among them are these:*

“To strengthen family members’ mutual responsibilities to assure the emotional and economic well-being of vulnerable family members, and their education and training.

*To establish love, affection, solidarity and responsibility as among the highest of family values.

*To enhance gender equality within the family and strengthen shared responsibly for domestic work and childcare.

*To broaden the range of economic activities within marriage to allow for autonomy of spouses in making decisions favorable to their interests.

*To recognize the right of grandparents, other relatives, and others involved with the children to experience harmonious communications among all family members.”

*To recognize the self-determination, preferences, and equal opportunity for older adults and handicapped persons within the family.

*To respect the right of families to lives that are free of violence and the necessity for preventative measures.”

A statement of principles appears at the beginning of the document: “Relationships that develop in the family setting are based on dignity as the most important value and are governed by the following principals, among them – equality and non-discrimination, plurality, individual and shared responsibility, solidarity, the seeking of happiness …respect, the greater interest of children and adolescents, respect for the desires and preferences of older adults and people with disabilities …”

The far-ranging collection of standards and precepts the new Code lays for family relationships look to be essential in fulfilling long-established principles of democracy and equality and new expectations for a just society. The promise offered is real equality between men and women, women’s empowerment, and support for gender diversity.

It’s equally important to emphasize the extraordinary process undertaken to develop the new Family Code. The people responsible for creating it and securing approval did so in ways that made the Code comprehensive and assured the Cuban people’s participation in the process. On display was the Cuban government’s serious purpose, dedication, competence, and inclination to democracy.

Here is the story of what happened after approval by referendum of that new Cuban Constitution in early 2019. As outlined above, the Constitution provided for the development of a new Family Code over the course of two years. The Ministry of Justice on July 16, 2019 announced the existence of an ad hoc working group that would begin the task. Joining the working group were judiciary, health, and foreign-relations officials, United Nations experts, representatives of the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Center of Sex Education, statisticians, and academicians from the University of Havana.

The working group elaborated one version of a proposed Family Code after another, and finally determined upon version 20. The Council of State on March 22, 2021 announced the creation of an editing commission to be made up of deputies to the National Assembly and representatives of institutions and people’s organizations. On completion of its work, version 22 of the proposed Code appeared on the Ministry of Justice’s web page on September 15, 2021. Expert consultations followed, taking place between September 25 and October 15 and involving representatives of 47 institutions, agencies, and organizations. Changes were made.

The National Assembly initiated discussion of version 23 of the Code on December 21, 2021. Once again provisions were altered and new ones added. The Assembly approved version 24 of the Code and submitted it to a popular consultation that took place between February 1 and April 20 of 2022.

More than six million Cubans participated in the exercise. As a result, 49 % of the proposed Code’s content was changed. In the end, 62 % of Cubans who participated expressed approval of the Code. Finally, version 25 of the Family Code moved on to the National Assembly and its approval came on July 22. The proposal now qualified for the September 25 plebiscite.

The process gave evidence of consistency of purpose, attention to detail, search for perfection, and commitment to the Code’s objectives. Cuba’s revolutionary underpinnings showed as, evidently, ideas of equal rights, fairness, and safety for all Cubans, no one excluded, had not lost their appeal.

The upshot is that Cuba’s socialist government earned even more admiration as it pursued a project difficult to begin with while simultaneously having to cope with a crisis of survival. The latter stems mostly from the U.S. economic blockade that has lasted for over 60 years. Cubans look like they arrange their affairs with a seriousness entirely lacking in the capitalist United States. There, things are left to chance as wheelers and dealers advance their interests, divisions are cemented, and dark forces have a field day.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.