UPDATED: Puerto Rico’s New Civil Code: Here’s What’s Really In It

Puerto Rico - Wanda Vazquez

Image via AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

By Mivette Vega

June 1, 2020

Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed the new bill, which was approved without public hearings. Here are the most controversial changes.

San Juan — An update of Puerto Rico’s Civil Code became law on Tuesday if Governor Wanda Vázquez does not veto it within the next few hours.

Vázquez initially said she will announce at 7 p.m. on Monday, with a recorded message, if she will sign the bill. Later Monday, La Fortaleza sent an updated press release explaining the governor’s message will now be live and inviting the press to attend for coverage.

The governor signed the new Civil Code at 7:30 PM on Monday.

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The Civil Code is the most important body of law after the Constitution because it regulates important aspects of being a citizen, including inheritances, family as an institution, marriage law, and contracts, among others. Puerto Rico’s current code dates from 1930.

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

The new version of the Civil Code has generated controversy because its wording has been approved by the Senate without public hearings.

Activists, lawyers, and non-profit organizations have criticized the new Civil Code. They consider its language to be ambiguous in some aspects.

“On the surface, it seems as if there’s nothing wrong [with the proposed code], but if you scratch the surface, there’s an obvious intent to discriminate,” said Rafael Cox Alomar, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, according to Reuters

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Here are some of the most controversial changes proposed by the new Civil Code:

  1. The House of Representatives modified the definition of marriage as “a civil contract by virtue of which two natural persons mutually obligate themselves to be spouses.” The Senate inserted the word natural. Defenders of the LGBTQ community maintain the language is ambiguous and fails to recognize the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2015. 
  2. The recognized causes for divorce are reduced from 12 to 2: mutual consent and irreparable rupture.
  3. The revision establishes that when by religious belief  “or by another type of ideological conception”, a parent ceases to provide their child with the healthcare specifically necessary to preserve the child’s life, the court will then decide on a suitable temporary remedy. “Once the need has ended, and when the court so decides, the parents can continue to exercise their parental authority over the minor,” the document states.
  4. The prohibition on reproductive cloning remains, but the prohibition on what is known as “eugenic practices directed at the selection of genes, sex, or physical or racial characteristics of human beings,” which was promoted by the Chamber, was removed.
  5. Amendments to a person’s birth sex will not be authorized in the original birth certificate, but the court may authorize the register to make a note outside the original sex registration. According to critics, this language clashes with federal jurisprudence. Trans people have been able to change the gender on their birth certificates legally since 2018. A note was added yesterday saying, “nothing here instituted undermines the process established in the cases of an application to reflect a gender change in the birth certificate.”

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This story has been updated to reflect the signature of the new civil code by the governor during a press conference Monday evening.




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