In an AP article posted online this afternoon, Jose Aponte, President of the House of Representatives, put the breaks on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages in the island as well as civil unions even for straight couples but said that the House would take up the issue in the next legislative session which begins on January 5th of 2008.
Speaking at an impromptu press conference pulled together earlier today in response to pressure from those seeking a House vote on the measure today, the last day of the current legislative session, Aponte asked "How much time did the Senate have? Do they expect us to act without any type of House review, just because the Senate took action? Space should be given so that, at the very least, there is a day for review regarding the process. Here, on the last day of the session, the Senate sends [these] measures to say that they accomplished something and to further a cause. I have more responsibility than that."
It was a small ray of light for LGBT-rights advocates in the island who were dismayed by the degree of support that the last minute constitutional ban measure - which was authored by senator Jorge de Castro Font - drew in the Puerto Rican senate last night securing its passage. The final tally was twenty senators in favor, two against, one abstention and four other senator absent (the measure needed 18 votes to pass) .
Promoters of the ban, leaders of conservative religious institutions the most visible amongst them, had pushed for a House vote today believing that they might have enough votes to pass it there just as they did in the senate yesterday.
Had they gotten their wish, the constitutional ban would have been submitted for a public referendum in May of 2008. This might still come to pass if the House approves the amendment in the next legislative session.
In the meantime, the Puerto Rican press reported on yesterday's senate vote.
As usual, reporter Israel Rodríguez Sánchez from El Nuevo Dia, had the most in-depth report.
Describing what appeared to be a senate turned into a Christian revival tent, Rodríguez Sánchez said that "the legislator's speeches turned into preaching last night."
Senator Lucy Arce presented the measure by thanking "he who does all" which was followed by other senators including Lornna Soto, Modesto Agosto, Héctor Martínez, Carmelo Ríos, Carlos Pagán, Migdalia Padilla, Luis Daniel Muñiz, Bruno Ramos and Margarita Nolasco invoking the Bible or religious passages and allusions at every turn.
De Castro Font also spoke of "a Christian Puerto Rico, that promotes a man-woman marriage."
When it was all said and done, senators stood up and applauded with a religious young man shouting "Suck on that!" - to gays I assume - from the spectator stands.
"Various legislators admitted to El Nuevo Dia, on the condition of not being identified, that they were not in agreement with the measure, but that they could not vote against it on a date so close to the primaries" writes Rodríguez Sánchez.
Senators allied with Pedro Rosello, a 2008 governor candidate, also admitted that they voted in favor of the anti-gay amendment in exchange for agreement that other senators would also approve two additional constitutional measures related to health care and municipal issues. Both passed.
The AP reported that the only two senators that opposed the measure last night were Maria de Lourdes Santiago and Sila Mari Gonzalez, the one abstention was senate president Kenneth McClintock.
El Vocero said that McClintock, in a statement released to press, stated that the constitutional ban "does not extend rights nor strengthen marriage."
"It is not the life styles of two neighbors or professional colleagues that endanger the matrimonial union," he added, "What affects the institution of marriage are the laws that each time make divorces easier, laws that do not require an adequate pre-matrimonial perparation... the laws that punish those married and promote separation and divorce."
In a statement released last night after the senate vote, LGBT-rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano said "Never in our history has the Constitution been amended to discriminate or restrict rights, but instead to expand or recognize them. The Senate has turned its back to our idiosyncrasies, our culture, our history. In a few years we will remember as the moment in which the Senate erroneously decided that there are a few Puerto Ricans that are worthier than others. What shame and what a disgrace for our history!"
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