(CNN Spanish) — Some eight million Cubans will be able to participate this Sunday in a referendum that seeks to update the Family Code, which dates back to 1975. The vote will define —by a simple majority— whether same-sex marriage is legalized, protection measures for women in cases of intrafamily gender violence and if surrogacy is enabled, among other novelties.
It is an atypical procedure, since it is only the third time that Cubans have been summoned to a referendum in 46 years. Previously there were two similar processes but to modify the Magna Carta, one in 1976 and another more recent, in February 2019, which many consider as the immediate antecedent of the current process and that will be binding.
“47 years after the promulgation of the current Family Code, it is essential to introduce the modifications…”, states the preamble of the new Family Code which was published in the official Gazette last month after a deliberative process. Indeed, the one that will be voted on Sunday is the 25th version of the text, approved by the National Assembly of People’s Power – the island’s legislative power – after a deliberative process that took place between February and April 2022, reported Granma.
On Sunday, September 25, according to the official newspaper Granma, citizens must approach the voting centers between 6 in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. During the entire previous week, according to documents published by the Council of State, only citizens living abroad who are “in diplomatic and labor missions” were authorized to do so, according to the same source.
In all cases, Cubans will answer the question: Do you agree with the Family Code?.
The most significant points of the new Family Code
-Marriage between people of the same sex:
If the Yes is imposed this Sunday, Cuba will become the ninth country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, behind Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico.
While the previous code referred to marriage as “the voluntarily arranged union of a man and a woman”, the new text names it as “the voluntarily arranged union of two people with legal aptitude for it, in order to lead a life in on the basis of mutual affection, love and respect”.
Along with this provision, the new family code will recognize a diverse range of filiations that transcend consanguinity.
-End child marriage:
The 1975 Code enables the exceptional possibility of formalizing a child marriage with the approval of the parents, “provided that the female is at least 14 years old and the male is 16 years old,” according to the original text. On the contrary, the new bill states that “people’s ability to formalize marriage is reached at eighteen (18) years of age.”
Child marriage robs girls of their childhood, putting their lives and health at risk, according to UNICEF. In addition, girls who marry before the age of 18 are at higher risk of domestic violence and are less likely to continue attending school.
-Provisions against gender violence
The new Code recognizes episodes of discrimination and violence in the family and states that they “constitute expressions of family violence: verbal, physical, mental, moral, sexual, economic or patrimonial abuse, negligence, neglect and abandonment , whether by act or omission, direct or indirect.
In addition, it establishes that these are “urgent matters” and that, therefore, they are of urgent guardianship. “Whoever considers himself a victim has the right to report and request immediate protection from the corresponding authorities,” adds the articles that will be put to a popular vote this Sunday.
-Legalization of surrogacy:
Named in the new text as “Solidarity gestation” and popularly known as “womb rental”, Cuba could join the limited list of countries that recognize surrogacy, widely questioned due to the ethical conflicts that it entails.
However, the new code establishes a series of conditions to be carried out, among them, that it must be for altruistic reasons and human solidarity and that it cannot be mediated by any “type of remuneration, gift or other benefit.”
Adherences and rejections to the project
The text and its approval have been the subject of an intense campaign by the Cuban authorities, who have flooded social networks with the hashtags #CódigoSí and #YoVotoSí.
“The Family Code is the hope of thousands of people marked by painful stories of exclusion and silence. Human beings who have suffered and suffer from the gaps in our laws. On September 25, I vote Yes. For them and for Cuba,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel wrote days before the referendum on his Twitter account.
The #CodeOfTheFamilies it is the hope of thousands of people marked by painful histories of exclusion and silence. Human beings who have suffered and suffer from the gaps in our laws. On September 25 I vote Yes. For them and for #Cuba. #CodeYes pic.twitter.com/V48AztHPaL
– Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) September 21, 2022
“I vote Yes for a Code that guarantees the well-being and happiness of all people and all families. Vote Yes for a norm that recognizes children and adolescents as subjects of rights #YoVotoSi #CodigoSí ”, wrote deputy Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of the late Raúl Castro, sexologist and director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX).
— Mariela Castro Espin (@CastroEspinM) September 20, 2022
However, the voices opposed to the referendum made themselves heard, and could be expressed this Sunday through the ‘No’ or abstention.
On September 12, the Catholic Church of Cuba released a letter signed by a group of bishops in which they affirmed that they see “with disappointment” the incorporation in the Code of a series of proposals that, they affirm, are “notoriously questioned by society” and “controversial to the majority feeling of the text”. In addition, they rejected the elements coming from what they defined as “gender ideology”.
In the absence of reliable polls, the null coverage of the opposition media and the scarce presence of international organizations, the results of this Sunday’s vote remain uncertain. But a majority rejection of the new text could be used by the State as an argument in favor of the functioning of Cuba’s democratic institutions.