Cuba’s Family Code (Código de las Familias or Law 156, 2022) aims to tackle discrimination and broaden the concept of the traditional family, by recognizing the diversity of family and domestic relations in the country. The new code affirms a wide range of rights and expands protections for children, women, LGBTQI+ groups, older adults, and people with disabilities. It was approved in 2022 by a national referendum, replacing the one in place since 1975.
In Cuba, the passing of the new Family Code in 2022 marked an important turning point in the country.1 The previous family code adopted in 1975 (Codigo de la Familia or Law 1289 of 1975) only recognized families and marriages between a man and a woman, ignoring many realities of contemporary Cuban domestic relations.2 For example, in the past, homosexuality was criminalized and prosecuted. Although same-sex relations were legalized in 1979, it was only in 2022 that same-sex marriage and families were recognized.3
The 2022 Cuban Family Code (Código de las Familias or Law 156 of 2022) replaced the previous family law and broadened the concept of the traditional nuclear family to acknowledge the diversity of Cuban families. Law 156 recognizes a wide range of rights for children, women, LGBTQI+ groups, the elderly, and people with disabilities.4 For example, the code affords the right of all persons to form and organize a family according to their choice. It legalized gestational surrogacy, same-sex marriage, and adoption. It also emphasized the concept of “parental responsibility” instead of “parental custody,” focusing on guaranteeing the best interests of the child.5 Parental rights were extended to non-traditional family structures, which means, for instance, that grandparents and stepparents can also take care of minors.6
Law 156 also incorporated guidelines to advance gender equality, such as the reinforcement of sexual and reproductive rights, the prevention of gender-based violence, and the promotion of the redistribution of domestic and care work among all family members.7 Under the new family law, corporal punishment and child marriage were prohibited.8
Cuba drafted and approved a new Constitution in 2019, which included human rights protections.9 The new Constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and includes the right of all persons to form a family.”10 Same-sex marriage and adoption sparked a national debate.11 Thus, the government decided not to address same-sex marriage explicitly in the Constitution.12
On September 25, 2022, the new Code was approved by referendum. About 67 percent of voters, nearly four million people, voted in favor and approximately 33 percent, or two million people, opposed the measure. 13 The referendum was backed by the government through a strong media campaign (although, the government owns all the media in the country).14 LGBTQI+ movements and women’s organizations supported the new code affirming it as vindication of their rights.15
Further details on the cost of implementation of the new Family Code are yet to be identified.
Although many were in support of the reforms, some LGBTQI+ groups criticized the referendum as a proxy approval mechanism for LGBTQI+ people’s rights.16 They argued that the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups should not be subject to a popular vote since it exposes them to public scrutiny and discrimination.17 Opposing views were also expressed by conservative and religious groups, such as the Catholic and Evangelical churches.18 Some groups argued that the referendum was a smokescreen for repression and human rights violations by the government. The code was approved amid a financial crisis and growing demands for freedoms, rights, political and social transformations. In 2021, massive anti-government protests spread throughout the island.19
The full impact of the passing of the Family Code has yet to be determined as the law is new. However, after the law’s approval, there was an increase in lawsuits before the courts in matters related to divorce, alimony, child custody, and care, with more than 34,000 cases were submitted in 2022.20 Additionally, 513 same-sex couples got married in the country by March 2023.21 LGBTQI+ groups stated that access to equal marriage improved their lives.22 The law is expected to contribute to penalizing domestic abusers and grant parental responsibility to grandparents, which is crucial given that many parents migrate and leave their children in the country with their own parents. 23
The new Constitution and Family Code were approved in a context in which Raul Castro brought economic liberalization and political reforms to the island. It followed some years of public debate, which began in 2018, when the proposed draft was discussed in public consultations. Moreover, demands to recognize the plurality of gender identities and sexual-affective relationships entered public dialogue through the work of LGBTQI+ activists.24
Some sectors warned that the new code could expand state intervention over minors, preventing them from leaving the island in the midst of one of Cuba’s most massive migration exodus.25
All opinions and views expressed on this website solely represent the views of the authors and of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a program of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
- 1. Torres Santana, Ailynn and Guanche, Julio César, “Nuevo Código de las Familias y el ecosistema político cubano,” November 11, 2022, NACLA, https://nacla.org/nuevo-codigo-de-las-familias-y-el-ecosistema-politico-cubano.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Council on Hemispheric Affairs, "From Persecution to Acceptance? The History of LGBT Rights in Cuba," 2012, https://www.coha.org/from-persecution-to-acceptance-history-of-lgbt-in-cuba
- 4. Lema, Gustavo, “Reformas al sistema jurídico y el código de las familias en Cuba,” Clacso, 2022, https://www.clacso.org/en/reformas-al-sistema-juridico-y-el-codigo-de-las-familias-en-cuba/#:~:text=La%20nueva%20normativa%20entr%C3%B3%20en,en%202019%2C%20tambi%C3%A9n%20mediante%20referendo
- 5. Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights, “Key points of the Cuban family code draft, an initiative that will be submitted to a popular consultation on September 25,” September 12, 2022, https://raceandequality.org/blog/cuba-en/key-points-of-the-cuban-family-code-draft-an-initiative-that-will-be-submitted-to-a-popular-consultation-on-september-25
- 6. People Dispatch, “Cuba passes historic new family code in nationwide referendum,” September 27, 2022, https://therealnews.com/cuba-passes-historic-new-family-code-in-nationwide-referendum
- 7. Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights, “Key points.”
- 8. “Folleto para leer el nuevo Codigo de las Familias,” 2022, http://www.acn.cu/images/2022/SEPTIEMBRE/GU%C3%8DA%20PARA%20LEER%20EL%20NUEVO%20C%C3%93DIGO%20DE%20LAS%20FAMILIAS.pdf
- 9. Diamond, Rut & Tedesco, Laura, "Trapped in Cuba," Open Democracy, February 18, 2022, https://www.wola.org/es/analisis/la-nueva-constitucion-cubana-una-explicacion
- 10. Inter Press Service, “Cuba promueve la inclusión LGBTI como política de Estado,” May 26, 2021, https://www.google.com/url?q=https://ipsnoticias.net/2021/05/cuba-promueve-la-inclusion-lgbti-como-politica-de-estado/%23:~:text%3DEl%2520hito%2520m%25C3%25A1s%2520importante%2520de,las%2520personas%2520a%2520formar%2520una&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1681329144407254&usg=AOvVaw3D_vvnYsVx9xQdXCBXol0N
- 11. “Cuba removes support for gay marriage in new constitution after protests,” The Guardian, December 18, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/19/cuba-removes-support-for-gay-marriage-in-new-constitution-after-protests
- 12. Pappier, Juan & González Cabrera, Cristian, “El reconocimiento de derechos políticos en Cuba no debería empezar con un referéndum sobre matrimonio igualitario,” Human Rights Watch, May 15, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/es/news/2022/05/15/el-reconocimiento-de-derechos-politicos-en-cuba-no-deberia-empezar-con-un
- 13. Medina, Eduardo, “Cuba Approves Same-Sex Marriage in Historic Vote,” The New York Times, September 26, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/26/world/americas/cuba-same-sex-marriage-adoption.htm
- 14. BBC, “Código de las Familias: la polémica normativa que servirá para legalizar los matrimonios homosexuales en Cuba,” September 23, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-62986659
- 15. Siegelbaum, Portia, “The Mixed Reception of Cuba’s Radical New Family Code,” The Nation, November 4, 2022, https://www.thenation.com/article/world/cuba-family-code-same-sex/
- 16. Pappier and González Cabrera, “El reconocimiento de derechos.”
- 17. Ibid.
- 18. Torres and Guanche, “Nuevo Código.”
- 19. Pappier and González Cabrera, “El reconocimiento de derechos.”
- 20. On CUBA news, “Fueron presentados en Cuba más 34 000 casos relacionados con nuevo Código de la Familia,” December 16, 2022, https://oncubanews.com/cuba/fueron-presentados-en-cuba-mas-34-000-casos-relacionados-con-nuevo-codigo-de-la-familia
- 21. Sosin, Eileen, “El matrimonio igualitario mejoró nuestras vidas, dicen parejas cubanas LGBT,” Open Democracy, https://www.opendemocracy.net/es/5050-es/cuba-matrimonio-igualitario-homosexual-religioso-derechos/
- 22. Ibid.
- 23. BBC, “Código de las Familias.”
- 24. Torres and Guanche, “Nuevo Código.”
- 25. Vincent, Mauricio, “The Cuban migration crisis: Biggest exodus in history holds key to Havana-Washington relations,” El Pais, December 15, 2022, https://english.elpais.com/international/2022-12-15/the-cuban-migration-crisis-biggest-exodus-in-history-holds-key-to-havana-washington-relations.html