Illustration by Clara Juong

Cuba Approves New Family Law Code

In a national referendum on Sept. 26, Cuba approved a ratification to the Cuban Family Code. This article reviews the proceedings, background and controversies surrounding the decision.

Oct 10, 2022

“Love is now the law (El amor ya es ley),” wrote Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Twitter on Monday, Sept. 26. The day before, a referendum to ratify the Cuban Family Code of 1975 legalized same-sex marriage, approved civil unions, allowed same-sex couples to adopt children and encouraged equal sharing of domestic responsibilities and rights between genders with a sweeping vote of 66.87 percent, totaling more than 3.9 million voters, reported the National Electoral Council.
The referendum also prohibited child marriage and addressed gender violence, while giving broader rights to grandparents in regards to their grandchildren. This has been the first referendum on a specific law — and third in general — held in Cuba since the victory of the revolution in 1959. The electoral commission shows a preliminary result of 74 percent participation rate out of 8.4 million Cubans eligible to vote.
The 100-page Family Code, allegedly having gone through more than two dozen drafts and incited hours of debate in community-level meetings, is internationally regarded as a step forward for LGBTQ activism in Cuba. However, even though backed by the Cuban government and public spokespersons such as President Diaz-Canel and Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education and central figure in Cuba’s leading Castro family, the votes indicate surprisingly less support.
In a country where typical government-backed proposals often receive overwhelming endorsement — tallying over 90 percent — the referendum reflects controversies and hesitations among the increasingly diverse Cuban population.
Western news outlets such as the BBC, for example, suggest that “Some anti-government activists consider the referendum an effort by the state to improve its human rights image following a brutal crackdown on all forms of dissent in recent years.”
Others have reported that “[Mr. Diaz-Canel’s] support was a way for him to show a liberal face in the wake of mounting political and economic discontent on the island,” drawing a link between the worst financial crisis to hit the country since the 1990s and the demand for political and social reforms.
On the other hand, even LGBTQ activists may have issues with the referendum.
“Referendums can be an important component of democracy and can, in some circumstances, help break the political inertia to uphold rights and promote rights-respecting policies. Yet, ultimately, the recognition of the rights of minorities, including LGBT people, should not hinge on a popularity vote,” said researchers Juan Pappier and Cristian González Cabrera. “That is an affront to the human dignity of already marginalized people subject to violence and discrimination, and could expose their lives and identities to unnecessary and harmful public debate, scrutiny, evaluation,” they further added.
And at last, the growing evangelical movement, an entrenched machismo culture and other conservative communities have been opposing the reform, where since 2018 and 2019 there have been multiple religious campaigns against another referendum, which would have constitutionally allowed same-sex marriage. At that time, the opposition against such reforms was so strong that the government backed away.
President Diaz-Canel, who has promoted the reform, acknowledged the controversies on Sept. 25 when he cast his vote. “Most of our people will vote in favour of the code, but it still has issues that our society as a whole does not understand,” he admitted.
Even as 79.5 percent of Cubans answered that the LGBTQ community should enjoy the same civil rights as heterosexuals, 83.8 percent are committed to accepting someone homosexual in the home and 63.1 percent consider that equal marriage should be approved on the island and equal rights be granted to couples of the same gender, the future of Cuba’s LGBTQ movement remains murky and unsure.
Zhiyu Lindy Luo is Senior News Editor. Email her at
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