Cuba: Redefining Family

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What if I told you that one of the most socially progressive laws in history passed us right by? That’s right: Cuba passed a new family code on Sept. 25 in a historic referendum. 

While most of what I publish is a broader analysis — usually of processes that have had long-standing historical lines — I will not be doing that here. Instead, I want to briefly discuss this new family code, mainly dealing with its implications and thinking about what we can take from it in our own varied understandings of family and who “belongs” in our contemporary society. 

In most mainstream publications, this was sold as simply legalization of gay marriage, but really it was far more. The code did not only that but also acknowledged the presence of many alternative family systems in the modern world. The code allows all to form a family without facing discrimination. This means that now same-sex couples can freely adopt, parental rights can be extended to non-traditional parties such as grandparents, step parents and surrogate mothers. Men and women will share the burden of domestic responsibilities under this law, and such domestic work will be classified as work. In short, the work all of our guardians did for us like getting us to the doctor, maintaining a clean and safe living space, cooking for us, etc. will be considered work. 

There are also new statutes being put in place in regards to domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Just as important is the new wording of the family code. Parents will no longer have “custody” of, but “responsibility” for their children. As a neurodivergent individual, this particular passage struck me. It states that parents will be required to be “respectful of the dignity and physical and mental integrity of children and adolescents.” It also acknowledges that growing children should be given more say over their own lives. 

That is very impressive for a country deemed “backward” and “repressive” by many in the Global North. Indeed, the law was passed after intense community committee participation and long discussions among community members, including the LGBTQ+ community. But for many people from marginalized communities, this law can be a precedent for what we are facing today in many “democracies” of the world. 

Trans and non-binary people are at least four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than cisgender people in the United States. Every year about 10 million people in the United States are victims of domestic violence. This includes one-third of women and one-fourth of men in the country who have been victims of domestic violence. This is not even including personal anecdotes I can provide. I have talked to far too many people who have grown up in non-accepting or potentially even physically, emotionally or psychologically damaging situations simply because they were trapped in the narrow confines of what defines “family” both culturally and legally in the United States and elsewhere. 

On top of that, think of how many people are legally restricted from starting families for various legal, practical or financial reasons. This code gives the people of Cuba far more say in the way they bring up children and are brought up as children. More than that, though, it is a recognition that people often form their own bonds not based on tradition but instead emotional fulfment and what provides the highest quality of life for them. 

As a non-binary, neurodivergent person I can confidently say that such a law in the United States would have immense benefit by simply acknowledging multiple structures as valid family structures. This is not only from others’ experiences, but my own. I had a wonderful upbringing, all things considered, but I can attest that my mother has put in plenty of work into raising me that absolutely qualifies as work. My grandparents have been very active participants in bringing me up too. As divorce rates have risen in the U.S., we can already see that family landscapes are not constant but instead in flux. For so many who feel that traditional notions of family are limiting to them, a law like this is a powerful reminder of what changes are possible.

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