The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro said during a rousing gay-rights march May 12 that her father advocated eliminating sexual discrimination, and reiterated her own hope that the country would soon legalize same-sex marriage.
Mariela Castro, a noted gay-rights advocate and head of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, also repeated her praise for U.S. President Barack Obama’s public remarks in favor of same-sex marriage, saying the American leader’s words “have great value because of the influence they might have” on others.
Still, she said Obama needed to back his words with action. While the U.S. president voiced support for same-sex marriage, there were no plans in the U.S. to get behind federal legislation to mandate states to recognize such unions.
Castro’s comments came during a colorful march by 400 advocates through the sweltering streets of the capital. The event is linked to the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17. Participants, including transgender people, sang and danced in a conga line.
Castro has predicted for years that Cuba’s parliament was on the verge of legalizing gay marriage, but it has yet to happen. She said she hoped legislators would finally follow through when they next meet in July.
Castro said her father had voiced support for the measure privately several times, and indicated he was working behind the scenes in support of a reform of the island’s family law.
In the early years after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, homosexuality was considered highly suspect, along with other “alternative” forms of expression.
Many gays were fired from government jobs, jailed, sent to work camps or left for exile. Fidel Castro later apologized for the discrimination, saying his past views on homosexuality were wrong, and a product of the times.
Costa Rican VPs endorse equal rights
The vice presidents of Costa Rica, Alfio Piva and Luis Liberman, said in an interview that gay couples deserve the same rights as heterosexuals, though they stopped short of endorsing marriage equality.
The two men also opposed adoption rights, but said gay people should have the same rights on inheritance, social security and loan applications. President Laura Chinchilla has not commented on the issue, merely saying that it wasn’t a priority for the government.
However, a gay- and trans-rights group, Centre for Research and Promotion of Human Rights in Central America, has introduced a constitutional motion to bring forth marriage equality, as Article 14 of the Family Code forbids it.
Two years ago, the country’s constitutional court blocked a referendum that would have allowed voters to decide on civil partnerships for gay couples. This contrasts with countries like Uruguay and Colombia, where civil unions are legal.
Costa Rica has marked International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 since 2008.
Argentinia leads with new gender ID law
Activists say Argentina now leads the world in transgender rights after giving people the freedom to change their legal and physical gender identity simply because they want to, without having to undergo judicial, psychiatric and medical procedures beforehand.
The gender-identity law that won congressional approval with a 55-0 Senate vote May 9 is the latest in a growing list of bold moves on social issues by the Argentine government, which also legalized gay marriage two years ago. These changes primarily affect minority groups, but they are fundamental, President Cristina Fernandez has said, for a democratic society still shaking off the human-rights violations of the 1976-83 dictatorship and the paternalism of the Roman Catholic Church.
Activists and academics who have tracked gender-identity laws and customs worldwide said May 10 that no other country has gone so far to embrace gender self-determination. In the United States and Europe, transgender people must submit to physical and mental-health exams and get past a series of other hurdles before getting sex-change treatments.
Argentina’s law also is the first to give citizens the right to change their legal gender without first changing their bodies, said Justus Eisfeld, co-director of Global Action for Trans Equality in New York.
“The fact that there are no medical requirements at all — no surgery, no hormone treatment and no diagnosis — is a real game changer and completely unique in the world. It is light years ahead of the vast majority of countries, including the U.S., and significantly ahead of even the most advanced countries,” said Eisfeld, who researched the laws of the 47 countries for the Council of Europe’s human-rights commission.
After killing, Chile OKs hate-crime law
In the wake of a national outcry over the homophobic killing of a young man, the Chilean Congress has approved an antidiscrimination bill that outlaws discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender and/or sexual orientation.
The bill had languished in Congress for over seven years, but was finally fast-tracked to approval by President Sebastian Pinera, and it cleared its final hurdle with a 25-3 vote in the Senate.
The killing of a gay man, Daniel Zamudio, earlier this year by a neo-Nazi group provoked a national soul-searching in Chile, where the antidiscrimination bill had previously been prevented from being passed by religious groups who contended that it would constitute the first step toward “gay marriage.”
Sen. Alberto Espina said in a statement: “It’s an enormous culture change for our country ... Chile is a country that discriminates a lot for being [indigenous] Mapuche, for being gay, for your nationality, for having disabilities. We have to acknowledge this and not sweep it under the carpet.”
Zamudio was attacked on March 3, and sustained severe head injuries and a broken leg. His body was covered in cigarette burns and in-carved Swastika symbols. He died after being in a coma for three weeks, and thousands attended his funeral in Santiago. Four men have been arrested and prosecutors reportedly will press for murder charges.
Catholic priest’s partner wins
The gay partner of a deceased Catholic priest has been told he is allowed to have his lover’s pension, despite the cleric’s vow of chastity.
The Constitutional Court of Colombia found in favor of the partner, who lived with the priest for 28 years before his death in 2009, in a landmark ruling, unprecedented in the history of Colombia and possibly Latin America.
The ruling ordering the Colombian Institute of Social Security to award pension rights is particularly significant given that the majority of the country still identifies as Catholic.
The Constitutional Court dismissed the first two rulings, which accepted the argument of the ISS that the deceased was a sworn Catholic priest who took a vow of chastity and therefore benefits should be denied, as he broke this vow.
Instead the court ruled that for all legal intent and purposes, same-sex couples constitute a family. It also stated that Colombia is a secular state and civil servants (including the ISS and judges) must exercise the principle of “religious neutrality” in their judgments.
It is understood that the ruling would have applied equally regardless of whether the priest’s partner had been male or female.
Gay men to be hanged in Iran
Four men have been sentenced to death for sodomy in the Iranian town of Choram, in the relatively remote and undeveloped Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province.
Saadat Arefi, Vahid Akbari, Javid Akbari and Houshmand Akbari are due to be executed soon, according to a report from the Human Rights Activist News Agency in Iran.
The men will be hanged for sodomy according to strict interpretation of Sharia law. The location of the trial and the speed with which the punishment is expected to be meted out reportedly makes it unlikely that international organizations will be able to intervene on the men’s behalf.
A gay activist based in Iran said that “being gay is not a crime based on Iranian criminal law, but this is the most clear statement against same-sex acts in past months.”
Mehri Jafari, a London-based Iranian human-rights lawyer, said he was “horrified and saddened to have heard the news about these four men. Not only with regard to the execution, which is about to take place, but the fact that is beyond our control.”
Activists in Iran say that at least five other men have been hanged for homosexuality this year in the country, though the reason for the punishment of some men was not identified to international human-rights watchers.
— compiled by Larry Nichols