A year ago this month I was thrilled to hear that a committee drafting a new civil code for the island had included language allowing transgender persons to get new personal ID's matching their gender and also allowing heterosexual couples AND same-sex couples to have access to a civil union measure which would have granted the same rights as marriage.
Since then, Senator Jorge De Castro Font, who chaired the committee, was successful in getting the transgender rights language removed from the draft and has waged a personal war to disband the committee as a means to stop any measure that recognizes any rights for same-sex partners.
Two months ago I noted with dismay that De Castro Font - in yet another move to block any and all recognition of same-sex partnerships - had also been successful in getting the Puerto Rican Senate to vote in favor of an amendment to the island's constitution defining marriage as that between a man and a woman.
De Castro Font and a number of conservative religious leaders put pressure on the House of Representatives to push a similar bill on the closing days of the 2007 legislative session but leaders of the legislative body resisted rushing as delicate a matter as amending the Commonwealth's constitution with little, if any, legislative debate.
Unfortunately, in early January José Aponte, the president of the House of Representatives, indicated that the measure would be taken up by the House in early 2008 and that he was confident that there were enough votes to pass the measure.
Even if both chambers pass the bill, Puerto Rico's Governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá would have to sign it for it to become a public referendum. So I hoped that the Governor's recent overtures to the gay community were a signal that he would stand up to the constitutional drive.
Again, I was wrong. As the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, Acevedo Vilá said that he would sign the bill and allow the referendum if the House passes it, even as he feels that such an amendment would be "unnecessary and divisive."
The House of Representatives vote still awaits.
On Friday, Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson told Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia that "Gay Puerto Ricans, their loved ones and their families need marriage [rights] and to be treated justly under the law as does anyone else."
He added: "The House of Representatives should stop their cruel and divisive attack on same-sex partners and their children, just as the Governor should reconsider his decision to allow the referendum to take place."
Matt Foreman, Executive Director of ther National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said that "fundamental rights can never be submitted for a popular vote," adding that "Democracy was created to protect minorities from the tyrany of the majority."
We'll see where all of this goes in weeks to come.
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