United States territory Puerto Rico is due to debate two bills related to extending the LGBT community’s legal protections this week.
Both Puerto Rico’s House and Senate agreed to debate the bills back in January 2013, which are aimed at increasing the legal protection of its LGBT citizens. Senate Bill 238 would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity based discrimination, real or perceived, in public/private services and employment, while House of Representatives Bill 488 is intended to extend current domestic violence protection laws to everyone, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status.
As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico is considered a country, but not fully independent; it has its own court system, but the US Supreme Court has the power to overturn any of its laws that it rules to be unconstitutional.
Though homosexual activity is not a criminal offense in Puerto Rico, and LGBT people may openly serve in the military due to the striking down of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the territory is heavily influenced by a large Roman Catholic and conservative Protestant population, which have historically made passing pro-LGBT legislation difficult.
The managing director of the Women’s Human Rights program of Amnesty USA, Cristina Finch, told 429Magazine, “We would call for the passage of these pieces of legislation to ensure that the LGBT community enjoys the full range of their human rights… certainly there has been institutionalized discrimination in Puerto Rico, and the passage of these two laws would be a success for justice and equality. We are excited to see these bills come up and urge Puerto Rico to seize this historic chance to end discrimination.”
In February, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court upheld their ban on adoption by gay parents; two days before the vote, upwards of 200,000 demonstrators rallied at the Capitol building in opposition to expanding the civil rights of LGBT people, in the biggest protest in Puerto Rican history.
A 1999 statute restricts marriage to one man and one woman, although a 2008 attempt at a constitutional amendment, which also would have banned civil unions and domestic partnerships, failed. In 2012, Democrat Pedro Peters Maldonado’s winning of a San Juan city council seat made him the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in Puerto Rico.