Cuba approves new family code
Affirming the family as the fundamental cell of society
On September 25, 2022, Cuban voters approved in referendum a new Code of the Families. Of a total of 8,447,467 eligible voters, 74% participated in the referendum, with 94% of them submitting a valid ballot. Among the valid ballots, 67% voted “Yes” on the referendum, and 33% voted “No.”
By international standards, the project of the Code of the Families was a great success, with high levels of participation in the popular consultation and the referendum, and with a final consensus attained. However, by the standards forged by the Cuban Revolution, the final results of the referendum indicate a relatively soft level of support. The Constitution of 2019, by way of comparison, was approved in referendum by 87% of the voters, with a voter participation rate of 90%. That is, the participation rate for the Code of the Families referendum was 26% lower than the referendum on the 2019 Constitution; and the percentage voting “Yes” on the family referendum was 20% less.
It is not that the support among the people for the Cuban Revolution is less than three years ago. To the contrary, Cuba has been hard hit in the last year or two by the impact of the pandemic on the tourist industry and by the intensification of the U.S. blockade, which has arrived to the point of blocking financial and commercial transactions that the Cuban government has made with banks and companies in third countries. Cubans well understand the external sources of the current economic difficulties, and in accordance with longstanding revolutionary practice, they are rallying to the support of their country and their revolution in a time of challenge. And they for the most part appreciate the competent, dedicated, and transparent leadership of the administrative team of the government, led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, which is constantly present among the people, explaining and exhorting.
The likely reason for the soft support for the referendum was the content of the Code of the Families itself, specifically the polemical issue of gay rights, opposition to which first expressed itself in the popular consultation on the new Constitution from August 13 to November 15, 2018. In the multitude of meetings among the people organized by the Constitutional Commission of the National Assembly of People’s Power, no single question provoked as much controversy as the change in the definition of marriage, which in the 1976 Constitution was defined as a “union between a man and a woman,” as against the proposed definition of a “union between two persons.” (See “Participatory democracy in Cuba: The 2018 constitutional assembly formed by an entire people,” September 10, 2021).
With appreciation for the views of the people, the Constitutional Commission decided on compromise final language that departed from the conventional “a man and a woman” formulation, but it avoided saying “two persons” by not defining who enters into the marriage relation. In addition, the Commission called on the National Assembly to develop a new family code and to conduct consultations among the people on the proposed code and to submit it to popular referendum. The people were promised that a new family code would not be enacted without the support of the people.
In compliance with this direction, the National Assembly developed a new family code, first in consultation with specialists in related fields and with representatives of various ministries. This was followed by extensive meetings of consultation with the people. The draft presented to the people defined marriage as a union of two persons, and it continued to provoke disagreement, although in a somewhat more indirect form, such as proclamations of the need for the Party and the government to be in tune with the culture of the people. Popular support was there, but it was soft in comparison to other issues that have been debated by the people recently, such as questions of socialism, the structures of the socialist economy, and the anti-imperialist posture of Cuba in international affairs.
The Party and the government undertook an extensive advertising campaign on television and newspapers in defense of the family code. The campaign did not dodge the issue of gay marriage, but it gave emphasis to the many virtues of the new code, as being more inclusive in a number of ways and more consistent with Cuban reality today. The campaign had some effect on the attitudes of the people, but support remained soft. The extensive advertising campaign made it evident that the Party was asking the people to support the proposed code, and certainly there were numbers of people who voted “Yes” out of respect for the Party and for the process of extensive consultation with the people, and with recognition of the virtues of the code above and beyond certain questions.
Thus, the Cuban discourse on the Code of the Families was never able to rise above polemical disagreements with respect to gay rights. However, the reality is that the Code is in no sense a document in defense of LGBT rights. It is above all a pro-family document that recognizes the family as the fundamental cell of the society (Article 2) and that celebrates the commitment of the Cuban people to their families.
The document is not idealist, in the sense that it does not celebrate the family in accordance with a traditional ideal of the nuclear family. It recognizes the diversity of Cuban families, including not only the traditional nuclear family, but also single parent families, blended reconstituted families, families with grandparents and other relatives living in a single dwelling, and families with grandparents as the sole primary caregivers of children. It maintains that, regardless of the type, the family is and must remain the foundation of the society, responsible for the care of children and their socialization into Cuban values. The document gives the highest priority to the needs of the children and the responsibility to nurture them into responsible and contributing citizens as adults.
The document is also not idealist in the sense it describes as much as it mandates and exhorts. It arrives in a context in which no one doubts the high commitment that Cubans in general have toward their families. It celebrates that reality, and it exhorts the people to maintain and improve it.
The content of the Code of the Families
The Code of the Families affirms “full equality between men and women, the equitable distribution of time dedicated to domestic work and caregiving among all the members of the family, without any of them overburdened.”
The Code of the Families mandates and exhorts to responsible parenthood, concerning which it has a progressive perspective. It defines responsible parenthood as attention to children and adolescents for their benefit, in accordance with their capacity, progressive autonomy, the free development of their personality, and their degree of maturity. It obligates parents to listen to their sons and daughters and to permit them to defend their views and to participate in the decisions of the home, in accordance with their psychological and emotional maturity and the progressive development of their capacity. Parents have the duty to inculcate in their children love for the family; love for study, school, and teachers; and love for the country. And parents have the duty to direct the formation of their children toward respect for such values as dignity, honesty, and human solidarity as well as respect for authorities, for the wellbeing and rights of others, and for a culture committed to the protection of the environment. In addition, parents have the duty to educate their children in regard to responsible sexuality, and to teach them domestic tasks. (Articles 136, 138)
At the same time, minor sons and daughters have the duty to respect their mothers, fathers, and other relatives; and to comply with the decisions of their mothers and fathers, insofar as these are not contrary to their interests as a person in development. Adult sons and daughters ought to cooperate with their mothers, fathers, and other relatives in all circumstances of life, to attend and care for them, to respect them, to treat them with affection, and to provide material support in accordance with their needs. (Articles 149, 150)
The Code of the Families recognizes the importance of grandparents in Cuban families, and it affirms their right to full participation in the family. “The State recognizes the importance of grandmothers, grandfathers, and other relatives and persons emotionally close to the family in the intergenerational transmission of traditions, culture, education, values, emotions, and caregiving work” (Article 8). The Code recognizes the right of grandparents to harmonious and close familial communication (Articles 4, 160, 293) and to the direct exercise of parental responsibility or guardianship in particular circumstances (Articles 145, 151, 169, 283, 332).
The Code of the Families defines violence as consisting of verbal, physical, psychological, moral, sexual, or economic mistreatment as well as negligence, inattention, or abandonment (Article 12). It repeatedly proclaims the right of children to live in an environment free of violence in all of its manifestations. It prohibits corporal punishment or any other manifestation of violence as a form of discipline (Article 146). It mandates parents to protect their children from violent content on the Internet (Article 147). It affirms the right of all who consider themselves victims of violence to denounce it before the appropriate authorities (Article 14). Persons who have been found guilty of a crime of gender or family violence can be denied parental rights (Article 191) and habitation rights (Article 287) or excluded from familial communication (Article 161). They also can be denied economic rights in the dissolution of a marriage (Article 260).
The Code of the Families affirms the rights of persons with disabilities to sexual education and family planning and to have family support for their integral development as a human being, with economic independence and social inclusion (Articles 4, 12, 46, 138, 434-442).
The Code of the Families mandates and exhorts support for the aged. It declares that “older adult persons have the right to a dignified life,” and they have a “right to an autonomous and independent life,” in which they make their own decisions and “define and develop their life project in an autonomous and independent form in accordance with their convictions.” They have the right to participate in all aspects of social life, free of discrimination and violence. (Articles 421-433)
A polemical footnote
The Code of the Families is the culmination of a journey that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc and the Special Period of the early 1990s. In the context of the economic crisis of that time, Cuba took the decision to integrate into the capitalist world-economy, but in a form that was consistent with Cuban sovereignty and its socialist values. The Cuban Revolutionary Government put forth a new model that provided space for foreign capital and small-scale private capitalism, under terms advantageous for Cuban economic development; and which included expanded investments in tourism, nickel, and the pharmaceutical industry.
As a dimension of this adjustment, Cuba became increasingly oriented to participating in the development of international norms in cooperation with progressive international organizations, and the influence of this participation on Cuban thought can be seen with respect to the Code’s declarations on parental responsibility, domestic violence, and the rights of persons with disabilities. At the same time, the Party remained intimately connected with Cuban values and the sentiments of the people, a necessary dimension of the fulfillment of its role as a vanguard political party responsible for guiding and educating the people. The Code’s affirmation of the importance of the family in Cuban society, its recognition of the diverse forms of the Cuban family, its appreciation for the Cuban family in its diversity, its affirmation of the role of grandparents and others with close family ties, and its repeated expression of support for the most vulnerable are reflections of the emotional ties of the Party to the people and their way of living socialism with Cuban characteristics.
Thus emerged the Code of the Families, in which the protection of gay rights was little more than a footnote. It appeared in a general equal rights declaration in Article 12. “Any action or omission is considered discriminatory in the family environment when it intends or has the consequence of excluding, limiting, or marginalizing for reasons of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ethnic origin, color of skin, religious belief, situation of incapacity, national or territorial origin, or any other condition or personal circumstance that implies a distinction injurious to human dignity.” This is reinforced in Article 4, which affirms “sexual and reproductive rights in the family environment, independent of sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, situation of incapacity, or any other personal circumstance.”
And then there is the definition of marriage in Article 201: “Matrimony is a voluntarily agreed to union between two persons with the legal aptitude to do so, with the end of making a common life on the basis of affection, love, and mutual respect.”
By not mentioning marriage or sexual orientation as a prerequisite for the adoption of children, the Code implicitly affirms the rights of gay persons and couples to adopt (Articles 100-102). And the Code specifically permits men or male partners to take advantage of “gestation of solidarity,” a structure developed to support persons who are unable to have children.
The issue of sexual orientation and gender identity does not come up much in the document. It is practically a footnote, but a polemical footnote.
As noted above, the people pushed back against the polemical footnote of gay marriage, as indeed they should. A demand for it was not emerging from the breast of the Cuban people, as was the demand in the last decade for an expansion of space for small-scale capitalism in the Cuban socialist economy. Overwhelmingly, the concern of the great majority of Cubans was not gay rights but the low standard of living, and the need to take decisive steps to improve the socioeconomic situation of the people. And overwhelmingly, the people supported the economic reforms that the Party proposed, formulated in the context of socialist principles and structures.
In addition, we ought to acknowledge gay marriage raises complex philosophical questions. Traditionally, marriage is celebrated as the union of a young man and young woman who are committed to creating a family. They make a lifetime commitment to the enormous responsibility of producing a family and caring for the material and spiritual development of the children, necessary for the reproduction of society itself. Their decision to commitment is celebrated by the society, and the marriage ceremony itself is a religious, family, and community feast. In contrast, a union between two persons of the same sex, who by nature’s design do not reproduce, cannot possibly be celebrated in the same way. It can only be celebrated in the same way in a society that gives priority to individual preferences, giving secondary consideration to commitment and contribution to the wellbeing of society.
The conceptions of the Third World socialist revolutions evolved from the embracing of certain moral and philosophical principles, such as: there are truths that humanity can learn through honest observation; human beings are created by God, and they are called by their Creator to construct a just society characterized by an equal sharing of the blessings of the earth; a just society provides fundamental human needs for all individuals; a just world is created through struggle, and in the creation of a just world, nation-states are the principal actors, and the peoples have above all a national identity; and all peoples have the right to sovereign control of their natural resources.
In contrast, the movement for sexual liberties of the past fifty years is rooted in a post-modern cynicism and subjectivity, in which the unconstrained expression of individual feelings are paramount, giving secondary concern to the wellbeing of others and of society.
The Third World socialist revolutions since their origins have appropriated from a wide variety of intellectual currents, mostly in the Western world, and this has been the source of their strength and vitality. But they should appropriate from the post-modern proclamations of sexual liberty with caution, as the Cuban Revolution has done so far, in that the new Cuban law has done little more than place an affirmation of tolerance and recognition of the fundamental rights all, regardless sexual orientation or gender identity, in the context of a conceptualizations forged by the ongoing Cuban revolutionary practice and understanding.
In my personal view, acceptance and tolerance, yes; but celebration is not required, except privately. If it’s your thing, go for it. No one should say you can’t, and no one should persecute you for it. Declare your sexuality to the world, if that is your preference. But you should neither expect nor demand that society applaud you for it. It is a private matter. Society must be more oriented to formulating a moral consensus that is connected to the forging of social justice in the classic sense defined by the democratic and socialist intellectual currents, religious traditions, and civilizations that today are the common heritage of humanity.
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