Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Puerto Rico: In lieu of civil unions, de Castro Font offers "shared residence" measure

In an OpEd piece that ran in the New York Times last year ("Praise the Lord and Pass the Budget," May 20, 2006) novelist Mayra Montero expressed concerns about the outsize influence of a few religious leaders on government and their role in mediating a resolution to a budget crisis that threatened to overwhelm the island.

In this crisis, they took advantage of the ineffectiveness of other forces in society and made off with the prize.

This is not to say that evangelicals, Catholics and other religious groups shouldn't help out when there's a crisis — though it is a shame that the governor and the Legislature needed an intercessor to come to an agreement.

But at what price? There is little doubt that one day these religious groups will send an invoice: when Puerto Rico has to decide on matters like gay rights and abortion, they will surely seek restrictions. And then we will find ourselves asking if divine intervention was really worth the cost.

Yes to "shared residence" rights, no to civil unions: The essay came to mind yesterday when Puerto Rican Senator Jorge de Castro Font announced that he was ready to back passage of a judicial "contract" proposed by the Catholic church that would recognize something called "recidencia compartida" (shared residence).

According to El Nuevo Dia, the measure would extend "hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights and medical insurance rights" not only to same-sex couples but to anyone living together under the same residence which seems pretty progressive but would fall short of recognizing same-sex couples as a family unit - or offer protections and rights equivalent to marriage as civil unions would do.

At the press conference, de Castro Font was joined by San Juan Archbishop Roberto González (pictured) who was the proposal's lead architect.

"It seems to me that these three fundamental rights and this proposal by the Catholic church will result, in a certain sense, in breaking the 'impasse' that has existed in the last few weeks between minority groups and the majority without in any way changing what we have said in the past, that we understand that Puerto Rico is a Christian town and a pro-family town," said de Castro Font (so much for separation between the church and the State).

Today's Primera Hora says that the concept of a "shared residence" was the same as the "shared union" proposal that the Archbishop proposed last year but that the name had been changed to avoid any confusion as to whether the proposal would recognize unions other than heterosexual marriage - it does not.

Today's El Vocero also says that de Castro Font would ad language to the measure specifically prohibiting polygamous couples from accessing "shared residence" rights.

Withering criticism: Most probably it was a response to the withering criticism that has followed the Senator for his efforts throughout the past year to 1) force legislators to withdraw support for language that would grant civil union rights to same-sex couples in a version of the civil code that is currently being finalized; 2) stonewall, antagonize and question the expertise of other legislators who stood in his way during the civil code revision process, which he presided over and recently calling for the dissolution of the body that oversees the process; and 3) successfully pull a last minute legislative maneuver that resulted in the Puerto Rican Senate approving an amendment to the Commonwealth's constitution that would ban the recognition of same-sex marriages (a similar measure seems destined to be taken up by the House of Representatives in the new legislative session that begins in early January and, if passed, would then be submitted for a public vote as a referendum).

An editorial published on November 14 in El Nuevo Dia ("Be careful with the Supreme Law") expressed alarm:
The problem is that there is an attempt here to assault the Constitution subjecting it to the whims of a few with inopportune proposals that should have never been considered for a matter as important as a constitutional amendment.

Actually one of them, the one about marriage, would ad an element of exclusion against a sector of our population as we denounced in this same forum. This is not only immoral, but also illegal. Undoubtedly, amendments of this nature put our democracy in precarious standing.
For his part, despite what he obviously sees as an olive branch to the gay community, de Castro Font is not backing off his anti-gay efforts. When asked about civil unions yesterday, the Senator replied:
I have already said that I will not support anything that may grant the rights and benefits or mechanisms or substitutions or legal semantics in the proposed Civil Code that could affect the exclusive rights of what is a family in Puerto Rico, marriage.
He added that he would not give way to the recognition of civil unions for gays or even for heterosexual couples and we are certain that he will have a prominent role in pushing his colleagues in the House of Representatives to take up the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment come January.

The response from LGBT activists: Ada Conde from the Human Rights Foundation called the proposal a "joke" and told El Vocero that it would be tough to implement such a plan in reality.

Pedro Julio Serrano said that the proposal amounted to "crumbs."

"To me it seems absurd," said Serrano, "even if they do not want to acknowledge it, the gross inequality has forced the legislators and religious leaders to admit that in Puerto Rico they have to grant rights to same-sex partners and that eventually, it should be equality."

In a statement on his blog, Serrano also takes de Castro Font to task for seeking to dissolve the legislative task force in an effort to shut down any consideration of civil union rights for same-sex partners and urges the House of Representatives not to take up a constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

Previously on Blabbeando:

No comments: