In an otherwise conservative “state” (unincorporated territory, to be precise), LGBT rights received support from members of both political parties in the Island. San Juan’s new mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz of the Commonwealth Party (Partido Popular Democratico, or PPD), announced that she would include same-sex couples (and heterosexual couples who live together) the right to participate in the city’s health care plan in the same way married couples currently participate. Yulin’s decision to treat same-sex couples in the same way as married-couples could prove to be a strong precedent for other cities (municipalities) to follow given San Juan’s political clout as well as Yulin’s status following her victory over three-term mayor, Jorge Santini.
On the “blue” side of politics, former governor Pedro Rosselló (1992-2000, and the last governor to win re-election) openly supported marriage equality when asked in a press conference he gave recently to tout a proposed constitutional amendment to secure the right to health care. When asked if he supported same sex marriage, Rosselló did not hesitate to answer with a clear “yes”. To those unfamiliar with local politics, Rosselló is a key figure in the statehood movement. He is as loved by his followers as he is bitterly hated by the opposition. Without equating their historical records, Rosselló provokes a similar partisan reaction between those in the pro-statehood camp and those in the pro-commonwealth camp as Ronald Reagan provokes in Democrat-Republican politics. Thus, his comments make him the first statehood leader to openly support marriage equality. This stance sharply contrasts with that of the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi who breaks rank with the Democratic Party by refusing to support marriage equality.
Pierluisi’s reluctance to support marriage equality does not equate to a lack of support for LGBT rights. Pierluisi has expressed support for civil unions, but not marriage equality in the past. Further, Pierluisi co-sponsored the bill to strike down “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and joined in the effort to pass the Matthew Shepard Act. However, Pierluisi came under fire towards the end of the month when he suggested that the Boy Scouts of America’s plan to reconsider its ban on gay members should be approached carefully since children may be more impressionable. Following an intense firestorm on Twitter and Facebook, Pierluisi released a statement fully supporting the repeal of the Boy Scout’s ban on gay members.
On the legislative front, the Senate and House (of Puerto Rico) are considering bills to amend the domestic violence act (Act. 54) to specifically include same sex relationships as a relationship protected under the Act. Following a decision from the Puerto Rico Supreme Court in 2002, same sex couples were deemed to be excluded from Act 54′s protection of domestic violence. The proposed bills would over turn the Court’s 2002 decision in order to include same sex couples in the domestic violence act.
Puerto Rico still has a long way to go on LGBT rights. The current administration is much friendlier to the LGBT community than the previous administration ever was. Senate Majority Leader Eduardo Bhatia, who has openly supported marriage equality, has not ruled out changing the law to recognize marriage equality, and Governor Garcia Padilla has expressed his support towards legislation that will ban discrimination based on gender orientation. Additionally, public tolerance for homophobia has been more vocal and effective, with the demise of the gossip show “La Comay” (for insinuating a brutal murder might have been due to the victim’s homosexual tendencies) and the ouster of an aide to former Speaker of the House, Jennifer Gonzalez, following a hateful attack on Twitter against local LGBT activist, Pedro Julio Serrano, as prime and optimistic examples.
However, we must not forget that in a deeply (socially) conservative place like Puerto Rico, actions will speak much louder than words. Governor Garcia Padilla and his legislative majority have a golden opportunity to place Puerto Rico in the 21st Century of LGBT rights. The next four years will bear witness to that.