[Marxism] When it comes to gay rights, is Cuba inching ahead of USA?

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Feb 27 14:47:00 MST 2007

(Readers can add their own comments to the USA TODAY blog.)

When it comes to gay rights, is Cuba inching ahead of USA?
By DeWayne Wickham


HAVANA - Years before George W. Bush proclaimed his support for a
constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages in the United States,
the ideologically rigid government of Fidel Castro made a big move in
the opposite direction.

(Photo -- Alarcon: "We have to abolish...discrimination." / By
DeWayne Wickham, USA TODAY)

It sanctioned the production and viewing of Strawberry and Chocolate,
an Academy Award-nominated film about the awkward friendship between
a straight man and a gay man - and the homophobia they both had to

Since this movie debuted in theaters here in the mid-1990s, the Cuban
government's intolerance of homosexuals has given way to a more
egalitarian treatment of gays and lesbians.

The public persecution of homosexuals has declined sharply. Two years
ago, Cuba had its first gay film festival. Last year, the
highest-rated show on Cuba's state-run television was a soap opera in
which a married man fell in love with another man. And now this
country is on the verge of enacting a law that gives same-sex couples
some form of legal status.

Ending bias

"We have to abolish any form of discrimination against those
persons," said Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National
Assembly. "We are trying to see how to do that, whether it should be
to grant them the right to marry or to have same-sex unions."

Alarcon said he expects Cuba's communist government will soon enact a
law to do one or the other. "We have to redefine the concept of
marriage," he said. "Socialism should be a society that does not
exclude anybody."

This awakening comes less than a year after President Bush renewed
his call for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
"Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them,
and changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family
structure," Bush said in June.

Just one state, Massachusetts, allows gay marriages. And only four
permit some form of same-sex union, which falls short of the
definition of marriage but lets gay couples have some legal rights.

How ironic is this? While a country that successive U.S. governments
have called a totalitarian state is moving toward expanding the
rights of gays and lesbians, the president of the United States - the
world's leading democracy - wants to restrict their rights.

Influential advocate

To be sure, Cuba is not the Netherlands. It's no gay mecca, but the
attitudes of people inside and out of this country's government are
undergoing a dramatic change when it comes to gays and lesbians. This
may be because one of the leading advocates of gay rights in Cuba is
Mariela Castro - the niece of Fidel Castro and daughter his brother,
acting President Raul Castro. She heads Cuba's National Center for
Sexual Education.

It also might have to do with Cuba's ever-evolving strategy for
fending off U.S. attempts to topple its Communist government and
replace it with a U.S.-style democracy. A same-sex union or gay
marriage law could make Cuba appear to be more tolerant than the USA.

"Because of our historical heritage, Cuban society has been
intolerant of homosexuals," said Ruben Remigio Ferro, president of
Cuba's Supreme Court. "But there has been a change in thinking. We
are developing a program to educate people about sexual orientation.
But it is not a problem that has been solved."

It is, however, a problem that Cuba's government seems determined to
solve. "I'm part of this country, like it or not. And I have the
right to work for its future," Diego, the gay character in Strawberry
and Chocolate, told his straight friend.

Cuba's half-century tug of war with the United States is an
ideological struggle. It is a contest between this country's
socialist ideals and America's efforts to impose its will on this
island nation. While this battle plays out largely on the world
stage, its outcome will be determined by the trench warfare that Cuba
wages for the hearts and minds of its people - those who are straight
or gay.

DeWayne Wickham writes every Tuesday for USA TODAY.

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