MANAGUA—Nicaragua’s gay, lesbian and transsexual populations are demanding inclusion in a new bill that defines “family” as a union between man and woman, while relegating all other types of relationships and expressions of sexual diversity.
Once again pandering to the Catholic Church and ignoring the fact that Nicaragua is officially a secular state, Nicaraguan lawmakers bowed to priestly pressures last month by drafting a new Family Code that defines families as the union between a heterosexual couple.
The law, which excludes all forms of partnership between sexually diverse couples and denies homosexuals the right to get married, adopt children or enjoy any other connubial comforts, is being voted on this week in the National Assembly.
Though gay marriage has never been legal in Nicaragua, rights advocates claim the new Family Code is not a progressive—or even modern—piece of legislation, rather the institutionalization of old prejudices by mossback politicos. For a government that likes to gush about how it is restituting people’s rights and promoting revolutionary change, the Family Code fails on many counts, activists argue.
“Lawmakers have to represent the population, and the population is all of us,” says Samira Montiel, special ombudswoman for sexual diversity—perhaps the most revolutionary position and government official in the Sandinista administration. “The government has passed other social laws that are very important, and what we are demanding is in the same vein of passing laws that recognize social rights.”
Montiel, a rare example of a dedicated human-rights advocate in an otherwise mediocre ombudsman’s office, says lawmakers must “remember their obligations to serve the population” and “recognize the sexual diversity that exists among families in Nicaragua.”
The sexual-rights ombudswoman is also not swayed by the hackneyed argument that “Nicaraguan society is not ready for this.”
The role of the government, she says, is to create a legal framework for social inclusion and equality, even if it means going against the troglodytic tendencies of society.
Montiel says it’s also a shame that other groups that claim to defend democracy and human rights in Nicaragua haven’t supported the gay, lesbian and transsexual community in its fight for equality and inclusion.
“All these groups that defend human rights and democracy, whether it be the church or political parties or civil society, should be defending this movement,” Montiel told The Nicaragua Dispatch, referring to the sparse turnout at Thursday’s protest in front of the National Assembly. “NGOs have their agenda and to miss something like this exposes that things aren’t always as they say they are here in Nicaragua. This shows you were people really stand on the issue of human rights.”
The gay, lesbian and transsexual community has no strong advocates in the National Assembly. On Thursday, no lawmakers took time out from waddling about the floor of congress or texting on their cell phones to come out and meet with the protesters and listen to their concerns.
No Nicaraguan lawmakers are openly gay—“at the moment, that we know of,” Montiel says.
Some advances under Sandinista gov’t
Despite getting the cold shoulder from lawmakers, the homosexual and transgender community claim there has been some notable advances since the Sandinistas returned to power.
For starters, the government in 2008 overturned Article 204, which criminalized homosexual relations. The Ministry of the Health also passed an important normative that protects the rights of gays and transsexuals to have access without discrimination in all public health centers and hospitals. And the post of ombudswoman for sexual diversity was another Sandinista creation.
But activists claim the government hasn’t gone far enough, as evidenced by the new Family Code which excludes a whole segment of the population.
“I don’t identify at all with this Family Code because it only talks about heterosexual couples. What about us?” demands Evan Diaz, an engineer who has lived for 10 years with his gay partner. “All gays, lesbians and trans are completely left out of the conversation.”
For Montiel, respecting the rights of the gay, lesbian and transgender populations is about being consistent with revolutionary principles.
“In Latin America, the principal advances in the area of respect for sexual diversity have come from governments on the left, so we can’t expect anything less from this government,” she says.