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Congratulations to Puerto Rico
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/25/13
Last updated on: 05/25/13
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On May 24, 2013, the Puerto Rican House of Representatives approved a nondiscrimination bill that had already been passed by the Senate and is supported by the Governor. The bill prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, government services, and public accommodations. When it is signed into law, it will be the culmination of decades of activism.

Michael K. Lavers reports in the Washington Blade that the House also passed a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender expression to the island's domestic violence laws. This bill has not yet been approved by the Senate.

The votes in the House came after a sometimes bitter marathon debate that extended late into the night on May 23 and resumed on May 24. During the debate opponents prayed on the steps of the Capitol, while supporters waved rainbow flags and chanted "Equality." Both measures passed on a 29-22 tally.

On May 16, 2013, the Puerto Rico Senate approved the non-discrimination measure by a 15-11 vote margin.

Governor Alejandro García Padilla lobbied lawmakers to vote for the anti-discrimination bill that Senator Ramón Nieves Pérez of San Juan introduced in January. He told them, "The country has a social obligation, a historic obligation, and also a Christian obligation to fight all types of discrimination."

The governor also supports the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the island's domestic violence laws and the extension of second-parent adoption rights to gay men and lesbians.

Puerto Rican native and resident Ricky Martin also urged lawmakers to support the anti-discrimination measure.

"The rights of gay people are human rights, and human rights are for everyone," he wrote in an open letter to members of the Puerto Rico House. "The passage of [SB 238] would represent the respect of our brothers and sisters' rights."

Puerto Rican activist Pedro Julio Serrano, who serves as communications manager for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), said of the hard-fought battle to get the bill through the legislature, "Today is a thrilling day in Puerto Rican history. A decade ago, LGBT Puerto Ricans were criminals under the sodomy law, today we're second-class citizens and when this bill is signed into law, we will be closer to achieving the first-class citizenship that we deserve. Equality is inevitable. Puerto Rico will be for all."

[As Linda Rapp reports in her glbtq.com entry on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Serrano is the founder of the gay rights organization Puerto Rico para Todos ("Puerto Rico for All"). He became the first openly gay man to run for public office in Puerto Rico when he announced his candidacy for an at-large seat in the commonwealth's House of Representatives in 1998. His campaign was fraught with danger; his life was threatened and his property vandalized. He was ultimately forced to abandon his campaign due to lack of funds. Given this history, Serrano's joy in the success of the nondiscrimination bill is understandable.]

In a press release, NGLTF executive director Rea Carey added, "We celebrate with the Puerto Rican LGBT community this amazing milestone. The sweeping nondiscrimination bill that will become law with the signature of Governor García Padilla is a testament to the resiliency and steadfastness of the Puerto Rican LGBT community and its allies."

The passage of the new law may be a turning point for Puerto Rico, as the U.S. territory may assume a leadership position on human rights in the Caribbean region, where sodomy laws and harassment of glbtq people are common.

Earlier this year, Governor García signed an executive order extending health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of workers state government, regardless of gender.

The island's Justice Department also is prosecuting its first hate crime case for the killing of a hairstylist who was set on fire.

In the video below, glbtq supporters gather on the steps of the Capitol on May 17, 2013 to lobby in favor of the nondiscrimination bill.

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