Tuesday, January 08, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: In a first, Puerto Rican Governor invites leading gay rights leaders to traditional ceremony

A Blabbeando y Puerto Rico Para Tod@s EXLUSIVE -

Here's where we left it last year:

1) The Puerto Rican Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of amending the Commonwealth's constitution to limit marriages to those between a man and a woman.

2) The Puerto Rican House of Representatives fought back last minute attempts by anti-gay advocates to push a vote on a similar measure in the last few days of the but said that they would consider it this year.

3) Conservative Senator Jorge De Castro Font (who has led the charge to ban same-sex marriages in the island and was the architect behind the Senate vote in favor of a constitutional amendment) seemed to offer an olive branch by embracing an idea floated by San Juan Archbishop Roberto González to create something called "shared residence" which would fall short of marriage or civil unions but provide some limited rights to same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual partners (the olive branch was dead on arrival).

This after De Castro Font publicly criticized members of a committee studying changes to the island's Civil Code for supporting language that would have offered civil unions to heterosexual partners as well as same-sex partners with the same rights as marriage (he is currently trying his best to have the committee disbanded).

4) Finally, on World AIDS Day some HIV prevention/treatment advocates demanded that the government stop an HIV prevention campaign that painted HIV+ people as zombie ghouls and promoted abstinence by questioning the effectiveness of condoms. This on top of the recent AIDS care crisis that surfaced last year.

Here's the latest:

On Sunday the Associated Press said that Jose Aponte, the President of the House of Representatives, "trusted that the [legislative] body will approve the proposal to elevate marriage between a man and a woman to a constitutional level" based on informal conversations with colleagues and said that he believed the measure had the support of enough legislators to pass.

But wait! Even if it passes it would still need the Governor's signature to be adopted as a referendum and on Thursday Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá pronounced himself on the issue and told the AP that he didn't think that a constitutional amendment was necessary.

"Those who are proposing this, elevate it to the constitutional level, what they want is to politicize the issue in an election year that should be addressed through normal laws," he said and added "there is no need not is there any reason to elevate this debate through a constitutional amendment at this point in time."

This is what makes today's developments newsworthy:

For the first time ever, the Governor has extended an invite to three openly gay and lesbian Puerto Rican leaders to participate in a traditional annual event (the saludo protocolar del Gobernador or "Governor's official salute") taking place tomorrow Wednesday at the Governor's official residence in San Juan.

Throughout the day, Governor Acevedo Vilá and his wife will welcome political, religious, military and community leaders and among them will be Pedro Julio Serrano, President of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s (avove); the Reverend Margarita Sánchez, President of the Puerto Rican chapter of Amnesty International (above); and José Fernando Colón, coordinator of Pacientes de sida pro Política Sana (below).

In a press release, Serrano said that he would urge the Governor to block passage of any constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage and to sign a Civil Code that truly protects all Puerto Ricans, including the LGBT community while Colón said he was proud to attend the ceremony as an HIV positive individual.

Following the statements he made earlier this week, the invites sent out to the three leading LGBT rights activists seem more than an attempt to be inclusive.

To me, they seem to be a symbolic gesture to right wing anti-gay zealots that the Governor is willing to welcome and stand side by side with the LGBT community and that, after years of sustained attacks from some anti-gay leaders, he might very well say that enough is enough and that the LGBT community in Puerto Rico deserves to be treated with respect and afforded the same rights as everyone else.

[UPDATE: For unknown reasons Reverend S
ánchez was not able to attend, Pedro Julio just called me and said he had just left The Fortress, as the Governor's residence is called]

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