[UPDATE: Feb. 28, 2008: Same-sex marriage ban does not advance in Puerto Rico... for now]
Puerto Rico's House of Representatives is set to vote tomorrow on a measure (known as Article 99) that would move forward a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages in the Caribbean island.
The measure had been on the fast track until media alerted Puerto Ricans that the language in the measure would also ban future recognition civil unions for heterosexual couples (which do not exist in Puerto Rico at this time).
Easy does it: The legislative body is set to approve removing the language that would affect heterosexual couples in order to gather enough support for passage of the bill.
The phrase that would be removed reads: "No other union, independently of its name, denomination, place of origin, jurisdiction or similarity with marriage, will be recognized, or validated as marriage."
The measure would require 34 of 51 representatives to vote in favor for passage (or 2/3rds of the vote) but, if amended in order to remove language - as it is expected - it would have to be sent back to the Senate (which approved the more restrictive language back in November).
On the other hand, if the measure is approved without changes the measure would go into effect (according to El Nuevo Dia) as long as the legislative bodies also approve the budgets set for the implementation of the measure.
This is why it's so heartening that today US Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) - in an unprecedented move - warned Puerto Rican legislators that passage of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in the island might affect the Puerto Rican government's ability to access federal funding in the future.
In an article published today in El Nuevo Dia, Serrano says that passage of such an amendment would put Puerto Rico among those groups that promote hateful and discriminatory measures which might not be seen in a good light by the United States congress.
"This doesn't help me to seek assistance for Puerto Rico," he said during a telephone interview with El Nuevo Dia, "Puerto Ricans cannot ask demand equality and at the same time try to create discrimination."
Serrano said that he considered the constitutional measure to be such a serious issue that he was willing to break a 34-year personal policy of not making comments on issues local to the island.
Serrano told the paper that such a measure would make it difficult to ask openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, for assistance indicating that Frank was opposed to such discriminatory measures.
He also said that he was speaking up because he wanted to defend the gay community. "This bothers me because I see it as choosing a group to get even [expressing] all the fury of a society especially during an election year for fear of [losing] votes."
He urged Puerto Rican legislators to vote on their conscience and not on their fear and noted that he was the Puerto Rican legislator in the United States with the longest career and that he'd never seen anyone lose a seat on the issue.
"Experience has shown me that when you take a position that is morally correct, of not discriminating against anyone, and you look at a voter in the face and tell him 'judge me for what I have done and not for that vote because my conscience would not allow me to give it,' people respect you," he said.
One of his constituents was impressed enough to write Congressman Serrano a letter. You might remember that I featured Jorge Irizarry's comments - as an undecided voter - on his increasing disappointment with the Clinton campaign ("From an undecided Latino gay voter: Barack Obama and LGBT rights," Jan. 28, 2008).
Here is his letter to Congressman Serrano.
February 27, 2008
Hon. Congressman José E. Serrano
788 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, New York 10455
Re: Artículo 99
Dear Congressman Serrano:
I am writing as your constituent to express my most sincere appreciation for your statement opposing the nefarious “Artículo 99” currently debated in the House Assembly in Puerto Rico.
I moved to the Bronx from Puerto Rico in 1996. It has always made me very proud to see that on many civil, political and economical issues you are on the side of the hard working people you represent. I have written to you several times before requesting or applauding your endorsement of proposals I consider beneficial. You always reply and, you have never let me down.
I am very grateful that you broke your silence on Puerto Rican affairs to publicly denounce “Articulo 99” for the hate legislation it is and for showing the connection it has to groups that exist just to promote hate and division between human beings.
You can count that I will continue my unwavering support on your behalf in the future. We need more people like you representing us and giving us a voice. Once again you proved that SI, SE PUEDE!
Jorge Irizarry, J.D.