Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Puerto Rico: Changes in Civil Code language would drop recognition of same-sex couples as family, limit access to partnership rights

Worrisome news from Puerto Rico: While it appears that a long-gestating Civil Code draft might finally become law during the current legislative session, a legislative committee has indicated that it won't include language that would have allowed couples - straight and gay - to enter into a common-law union with the same rights and responsibilities as marriage ("No opportunities for common-law unions", El Vocero, Jan. 12, 2009).

“It doesn't have the votes to be approved," said Liza Fernandez, Co-Chair of the joint Commission for the Revision of the Civil Code, "I understand that rights should be recognized for partners who live together but are not married, be them homosexuals or heterosexuals, but to bring it as a common-law union will not allow me the possibility of granting those rights. We will seek alternatives and will amend other areas such as inheritance to have, for example, a spouse or cohabiting partner [recognized as] the heir apparent."

In other words, language that would have given same-sex couples access to all rights available to married heterosexual partners in Puerto Rico will be eliminated and, in exchange, they will only be given a few rights.

There is a progressive angle to the alternative which would be of benefit to others. El Vocero says that inheritance rights, hospital visits and medical coverage would be made available to any two people who can demonstrate they have lived together under the same roof for a number of years through a 'civil pact of solidarity'. Same-sex partners would have access to the 'pact' and so would family members, siblings or non-romantic co-inhabitants living together.

But the limited rights would be granted through a Contracts process and not through Family Law. In other words, same sex partners would still not be considered as a family under the new Civil Code.

Fernandez admitted that the elimination of a common-law union figure from the Civil Code was the result of opposition from conservative legislators and religious groups and also indicated that the committee might be open to including an explicit same-sex marriage ban.

Leading LGBT rights advocate Pedro Julio Serrano released a statement in reaction:

"The recognition of any rights is a step in the right direction, but it is not sufficient. To move same-sex partners and heterosexuals who co-habit without getting married in the Book of Contracts is an affront to the dignity of these relationships of love and commitment," he wrote, "We are family as much as any other and we have to be recognized as such in the Book of Families. We are not contract objects, we are a product of love and commitment."


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