Cubans headed to the polls on Sunday to vote on a package of measures that would end the island’s “macho” culture and legalize same-sex marriage, as the country faces a deepening economic crisis. .
If passed, the 100-page “family code” would put Cuba at the forefront of progressive social policy in Latin America, legalizing same-sex marriage and civil unions, allowing same-sex couples to adopt children and promoting the equitable sharing of domestic rights and responsibilities between men and women.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who walked with his wife to vote a few blocks from his home in the Havana suburb of Siboney, told reporters that the code removes prejudices and taboos that have been ingrained in Cuban society.
“My expectation is that the majority of the population will vote ‘yes,'” Diaz-Canel said. “But regardless of whether the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ wins (…) the popular debate that has been generated has contributed to our society.”
The code, which has gone through 25 drafts, nearly 80,000 town hall meetings and 300,000 suggestions from the public, is expected to draw millions of Cubans to the polls. The measure requires more than 50% of the votes cast on Sunday to become law.
Most previous ballot initiatives in Cuba have been overwhelmingly approved, but an economic crisis that has led to long lines for food, medicine and fuel has raised the possibility of an anti-government protest vote.
“We have to get used to the fact that on such complex issues, where there is a diversity of criteria (…) there may be people who vote to punish (the government),” said Díaz-Canel. “That’s also legitimate.”
Sunday’s vote will be the first of its kind since mobile internet was legalized in 2018, allowing dissenting views to spread more widely.
There are no independent and external observers of the Cuban elections, however, citizens can observe the count in their precincts immediately after the vote.
The government has flooded television and radio in recent weeks with ads celebrating diversity and inclusion to promote the code.
“This code makes everyone equal,” said José Antonio Fernández, a 73-year-old retiree from Havana who voted in favor of the measure Sunday morning.
Some social conservatives – including the Roman Catholic Church and evangelicals – see things differently, objecting to issues like gay marriage and complaining that government control of the media has stifled opposing views.