Victory in Cuba – New Family Code Updates Equality within Family Life
By W. T. Whitney Jr.
The Cuban people, voting in a national plebiscite on September 25, gave approval to a new Family Code. According to the National Electoral Council, preliminary results showed that of almost six million Cubans who cast a valid ballot, 66.9% voted Yes; 33.1% voted No. The New Family Code was left-over business from a new Cuban Constitution approved on April 10, 2019.
The new Code promises all Cubans protection of democratic and legal rights within the context of family life, both existing rights and new ones. It represents revision of the Family Code contained in Cuba’s Constitution of 1976. The principal 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 was undertaking extensive alterations of the 1976 Constitution. In the process of devising what became a new Constitution, opposition to certain provisions of a proposed new Family Code cropped up both in the Assembly and in public consultations. On the table had been 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 a new Family Code to be created later and then be approved by “attending to the results of a plebiscite” taking place in two years. The Covid-19 pandemic led to that plebiscite’s delay until September 25, 2022. The Family Code that resulted 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 conveyed is that marriage does not necessarily require a man and woman.
The government had 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 in view of distress in Cuba and sharply increased migration, the Code was just “Bla, Bla, Bla.”
An important point to be emphasized here is that the new Code epitomizes Cuba’s revolutionary zeal as it offers assurance that family life in Cuba will be characterized by equality, democratic rights, and protection. The Code is vast in its reach; it extends to all aspects of family life and establishes principles and values entirely fit for guiding citizens in maintaining family relationships and the state in prescribing for family life.
The Code presented on September 25 was a 63-page document that, online, 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.
“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 that are laid out for relationships within all aspects of family life are consistent with the nature of a Cuban society that aims both to follow long-established principles of democracy and equality and to evolve according to new expectations for a just society. As regards the latter, the main impetus for a new Family Code had been mounting agitation for equality between men and women, for women’s empowerment and for arrangements supportive of gender diversity.
This report would emphasize one more important aspect of the new Family Code, specifically the extraordinary process undertaken to fashion the Code. Those who were responsible for creating it and securing its approval did so in a way that makes for the Code’s comprehensiveness and for full participation by the Cuban people in building and evaluating it. The process testifies to the Cuban government’s serious purpose, dedication, competence, and inclination to democracy.
Here is the story of what happened after approval via a plebiscite 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, the resulted of which being that 49 % of the contents of the proposed Code were 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.
Now the proposal qualified for the September 25 plebiscite. From the beginning to the end of the process, various reviewing bodies and the popular consultation had changed hundreds of the document’s articles and added new ones. On display had been consistency of purpose, attention to detail, search for perfection, and commitment to objectives of the Code that, together, signify dedication to Cuba’s revolutionary underpinnings. The causes of equal rights, fairness, and safety for all Cubans, no one excluded, evidently have not lost their appeal.
A final observation would be admiration of Cuba’s socialist government and Cuban society for successfully pursuing a project made difficult because of special requirements and meanwhile they are having to cope with a crisis of survival. The latter, of course stems mostly from the U.S. economic blockade that has lasted for over 60 years. Evidently Cubans approach the job of governing 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.