Puerto Rico’s New Civil Code Is a Mess. Let’s Debunk It…

By Pedro Julio Serrano | The Americano

Puerto Rico LGBTQI+ community received the Governor’s new Civil Code with anger and concern. This is how we see it from where we stand.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez announced her signature of the new Civil Code in an optimistic tone, while many Puerto Ricans have opposed the changes.

There was no consensus regarding the approval of the Code. This was not “the bill that has been worked on for the past 20 years,” as she claims, and it is not a progressive set of laws.

The governor blatantly lied to justify her signing of the bill. In my estimation, the new Civil Code has procedural, structural, and content flaws.

Here are some of the most notorious misleading arguments by Governor Vázquez. And how we, the LGBTQI+ community see each one of them from where we stand.

You can read the entirety of the Civil Code passed by the Legislature, here.

Governor’s CLAIM #1: This new Civil Code is the product of decades of work by the Legislature.

HOW WE SEE IT: The reality is that the new Civil Code was authored by representative María Milagros Charbonier and priest Carlos Pérez in 2018. They did not use the draft prepared by the Civil Code Revising Committee, and it was not an inclusive process since it was done behind closed doors, not in an open hearing. It was offensive to hear the Governor quote Martin Luther King, Jr. while adding that the Civil Code “was approved under the guidance of social justice.” 

RELATED: LGBTQ Community to PR Legislature: We’re Not Going Back Into the Closet

CLAIM #2: The decision to sign the Civil Code into law came about from dialogue and consensus with diverse groups, including the LGBTQI+ community

HOW WE SEE IT: There was no dialogue with LGBTQI+ groups, with the exception of a last-minute meeting in which the majority of the people present were employed by the governor or are part of the Governor’s LGBT Advisory Council. Groups such as CABE and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s were not invited, and our letters regarding the Civil Code were not answered. It is important to note that the governor did not have meetings with women’s groups asking her to not take away their rights. One thing is true: she met with Christan “jurists.” 

CLAIM #3: There were no objections to specific articles on the Civil Code and public opposition was based on disinformation. 

HOW WE SEE IT: With just a simple reading of op-eds on the topic, press clippings, and even letters to the editor, Vázquez would have understood there are solid objections to the new Civil Code. This Code is public information available to anyone. CABE, a coalition that fights for LGBTQI+ equity, sent two letters, on March 10 and May 27. All objections were enumerated, but there’s still no answer from the governor.

CLAIM #4: The new Civil Code recognizes and adds rights for citizenship. 

HOW WE SEE IT: This Civil Code mentions new areas such as civil unions and surrogate motherhood. Nonetheless, there are no articles that grant rights to unmarried couples and people who want to participate in surrogate motherhood. In other words, these things are mentioned without the concrete tools to enforce them. 

CLAIM #5: This Civil Code does not endanger acquired rights. 

HOW WE SEE IT: This Code has an intentional ambiguous language regarding abortion, the change of the birth certificate for trans people, marriage, adoption, and others. 

Regarding trans people: On the one hand, there are new requisites within the Code to change the gender marker of birth certificates for trans people. On the other hand, the Code alleges the process is the same. This leads to mixed interpretations of the administrative process.

Regarding marriage and adoption: The ambiguous language opens the door for the elimination of marriage and adoption rights for LGBTQI+ couples if U.S. courts continue on a conservative trend due to Trump’s judicial nominations. Also, the Code utilizes the term “natural person,” which could be a veiled attempt at excluding trans people.

Regarding women’s rights: This Code opens the door to limit abortion rights by rolling back the rights of women to make decisions over their bodies.

Regarding the nondiscrimination article: The article containing the prohibition of discrimination against protected groups was eliminated.

CLAIM #6: It is not a perfect document; we can amend it. 

HOW WE SEE IT: There are no possibilities to amend it until 2021 with a new legislature. The governor knows that the last legislative session of this term ends now, in June, and no additional bills can be submitted. If she is acknowledging that the Civil Code needs to be amended, the correct thing to do was not sign it into law.

This Civil Code is a judicial Frankenstein. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s a judicial absurdity.

The governor wanted to be on good terms with God and the Devil — as we say in Puerto Rico — and has ultimately angered many.

In one of the biggest tests of her competency, empathy, and decency, she failed miserably. The people she swore to protect will pay the consequences.

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