Civil Code Puerto Rico LGBTQ Rights
Graphic via Desirée Tapia for The Americano

The Puerto Rican Legislature is trying to force the LGBTQ+ community back into the closet. Let’s be clear: we are here to stay.

For years, Puerto Rican legislators have tried to pass bills to reject the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Our community has fought back since 2015 — and this time is no different.

We fought for the right to legal marriage in 2015. We fought for the right to adopt children in 2016. We fought for the right to change our names in birth certificates in 2018. And we won every single time.

In its latest affront, the Puerto Rican Legislature just passed a Civil Code that will endanger women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and the rights of unmarried couples — straight or gay.

The Civil Code was established in 1930 and has been amended many times afterward. For the past 90 years, this “general law has been in charge of regulating a multiplicity of affairs related to the life of human beings and their daily interaction with others,” as the document cites.

This bill would roll back the rights of women to make decisions over their bodies, the rights of trans people to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates, unmarried couples’ rights, and the prohibition of discrimination in any form. It would also make less certain that LGBTQ+ people and couples can access their right to marriage and adoption.

You can read the entirety of the Civil Code passed by the Legislature, here.

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Why Is This Such a Big Deal for Women and the LGBTQ+ Community?

The language included in the new bill taking away a woman’s right over her body is ambiguous. “Rights are being recognized before birth,” Osvaldo Burgos, spokesperson for the Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de Equidad (CABE), told El Nuevo Día. “As the language is so ambiguous, we do not know what it is that is sought and that phrase that it is born for all the effects that are favorable to it is worrying, because you can say that the life of the fetus is favorable to it.”

Also, if you put obstacles in the way of trans people changing their birth certificates, you are taking away their right to identify as who they really are.

If you don’t create a legal institution for unmarried couples to access the same rights and protections as married couples, you are treating them less than. If you don’t say specifically that the State won’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and couples in their right to marry and adopt, you are taking away their right to love and make a family.

The opposition to this bill has been unwavering and uncompromising, likely because it affects almost everyone in Puerto Rico. The majority of couples in Puerto Rico are unmarried [only an average of 5.6 in every 1,000 people get married, according to Puerto Rico’s Health Department data]. Women are the majority [52.5 according to the U.S. Census] in Puerto Rico. If you then add LGBTQ+ people, then more than half of the country could be affected.

Ricky Martin, Kany García, Residente, Bad Bunny, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Olga Tañón, Ile, you name it —almost every major star in Puerto Rico has publicly opposed this new Civil Code because it would put the rights of so many people in danger.

Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that this is happening. That’s what some of the fundamentalist religious faction have tried to do before.

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Last year, the legislature passed two anti-LGBTQ+ bills. One claims to ban conversion therapy, but it really would have the opposite effect of legalizing it, by giving a religious exemption to counselors and others to impose this damaging and harmful therapy on LGBTQ+ people. The other would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ+ people by allowing religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws and policies.

Now, we are fighting one of the greatest battles of our civil rights movement. After having won our rights, we are not going to let them take them away.

It’s hard — perhaps impossible — to make someone feel less than, once that person has recognized his or her power. That’s how we feel now. We are empowered, we are strong, we know we’re equal, not less than. And we won’t let them take that away from us.

Puerto Rico has rallied behind us. Public opinion is on our side. We have felt the support of the majority of Puerto Ricans who say, “Enough is enough.”

The only way to correct this, Governor Wanda Vázquez, is by vetoing this bill. It is not good enough. Indeed, it is bad. It’s so bad that it didn’t have public hearings in the Senate, and the approved version of the bill that passed by the Senate wasn’t made public for a week.

The fact is LGBTQ+ people are still in the process of mourning the ten people who were murdered in the past 15 months due to a resurgence of an epidemic of homophobic and transphobic violence.

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This Civil Code is adding insult to injury.

It’s sending a message that LGBTQ+ lives are not worthy of value to this government. These actions — and inactions — from the administration led by the New Progressive Party are putting us in harm’s way. They are sending a message that it’s OK to discriminate and even attack LGBTQ people.

The government is giving permission to others to treat us like we’re less than. And we are not. We are just as Puerto Rican, as human, as dignified as anyone else. We won’t let them take away our rights. We will not go back into the closet.

The saying goes: We are here. We are queer. Get used to it.

Well, the Puerto Rican Legislature must really get used to us, soon. I mean, NOW.