By Nelson Acosta and Anett Ríos
HAVANA, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Pedro Rafael Delgado, a 56-year-old Cuban accountant, saw his life drastically change a few days after Cuba approved a set of laws by referendum giving the green light to same-sex marriage.
For more than a decade, Delgado, who works in an office of the Cuban Communist Party, lived as a “friend” of his partner of 62 years, Adolfo López. He lacked basic rights and felt rejected even by his own family due to his sexual orientation.
“Being gay was the embarrassment of the family and I always lived with that,” he told Reuters in an interview.
The new Cuban Family Code, a set of measures and regulations that establishes rights for all Cubans, regardless of their sexual orientation, to marry and adopt children, changed everything, says Delgado.
But activists and experts consulted by Reuters maintain that the broad government-led campaign to promote the law did more to moderate entrenched homophobia and machismo than the fine print of the Code itself, which governs all family relationships and not just issues that address sexual orientation.
“There is no doubt that it represents a change … not only from a legislative point of view, but also from a mentality point of view,” said Adiel González, a 32-year-old activist and teacher.
“Some say that (the change) is due solely to the Code, which is false,” González said, adding that before there were changes in attitude, but the discussion about the law helped people accept other sexual orientations.
For months before the referendum, the government flooded Cuba’s state television, radio and newspapers, which it controls, with ads promoting the law. It also put up billboards on highways and held parades, while Communist Party leaders, including President Miguel Díaz-Canel, repeatedly promoted the text.
However, this unilateral media impulse was not well seen by all. In a statement ahead of the referendum, Cuba’s Catholic Church said overwhelming state support and control of the media had stifled opposition voices.
The government said that at least half of the 11 million inhabitants of the island participated in meetings between neighbors before the vote with the aim of discussing the measure.
Cuba has registered 75 same-sex marriages in October, according to the state newspaper Trabajadores. That’s more than 2% of the total 3,300 marriages reported for the month, the data shows.
A direct comparison of these statistics with other countries or regions is difficult due to cultural and legal particularities.
However, same-sex households in the United States account for 1.5% of residences occupied by couples of either gender, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
While Cuba has long been hailed as the vanguard of the Latin American left, it had lagged behind its regional neighbors on marriage equality, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, which moved more quickly in the last year to pass gay marriage and other progressive reforms.
Cuban transgender medical student Ariana Mederos, from the western province of Matanzas, recalls that two years earlier she had explained to the rector of her university that “he” was now “she.”
At that time, Mederos was not protected by the recently approved Family Code.
“I cried a lot. I thought I was going to lose my career,” he told Reuters, recalling the day. “And at the moment when I thought that everything was going to collapse, the rector told me, ‘we are going to support her in her transition and you will have all our support, including that of your teachers.'”
Mederos says that attitudes changed in Cuba with the discussion prior to the referendum.
“Cuba is changing and I am proof of it,” he added. “I see many positive changes but I know that there is still a lot to work on, to fight for all these rights,” she added.
Activists like González say the Code, while marking a step toward equality, still lacks details, including a separate gender identity law that allows transgender people to be treated according to the identities they choose.
“The fight is not over. Now we have to see that the Code does not remain a dead letter, continue working and live in a less discriminatory society,” he stressed.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Anett Ríos, edited by Aida Peláez-Fernández; REUTERS NAB DS/APF)