Cuban lawmakers have unanimously passed a revised draft of a new constitution after a reference to marriage equality was removed.
The draft had initially contained a statement in Article 68 that marriage is a union of ‘two people… with absolutely equal rights and obligations’.
However, the amendment was removed from the draft earlier this week following protests by conservative and religious groups.
The approved version will now go to a popular vote on 24 February.
The current draft has removed all definitions of marriage. While this means that same-sex marriages are entirely not off the table, it does not come with the symbolic backing of having been approved by parliament.
The government has said it will update the Family Code and put the matter of marriage equality to a referendum in the next two years.
‘This is no setback’
The removal of the reference was met with disappointment by Cuba’s LGBTI rights groups, though they vowed to continue working.
Mariela Castro, the daughter of Communist Party leader Raul Castro and one of Cuba’s most vocal proponents for LGBTI rights, said that there ‘is no setback,’ and that activists could still achieve marriage equality.
‘The fight continues, let’s give a ‘yes’ to the constitution and then close ranks to achieve a family code as advanced as the new constitutional text,’ Castro wrote in a Facebook post.
However, the methodology has angered other LGBTI rights advocates, who say that fundamental human rights should be considered absolute.
Harold Cardenas, a professor of Marxism and political blogger, said: ‘Equal rights to marriage in Cuba should be a presidential decree, not a referendum that exonerates the state from responsibility and opens the door to conservative homophobia,’ reports ChannelNews Asia.
A change from the past
In the past, Cuba has been hostile towards the LGBTI community.
Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, then-president Fidel Castro sent 25,000 gay men deemed unfit for military service to labor camps. Until 1993, Cuba also quarantined people with HIV and AIDS.
However, in 2010, Castro said he was repentant of the injustices which had been perpetrated against the LGBTI community under his five-decade rule.
While there remains pushback from religious and conservative elements in Cuban society, LGBTI rights in the island republic have markedly improved in recent years.
It is now illegal for employers to discriminate against people because of their sexuality or gender. The country has also offered free gender affirmation surgeries since 2008, though fewer than 40 people have so far received them.