LGBT rights in Puerto Rico

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LGBT rights in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal
Military service No
Discrimination protections Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity are not prohibited

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons in Puerto Rico face some legal issues. Public discussion and debate about sexual orientation and gender identity issues have increased, and some legal changes have been made. Currently, both supporters and opponents of legislation protecting the rights of LGBT persons can be found in either of the major political parties. Public opposition still exists due, in large part, to the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church and socially conservative Protestants.

Civil Rights

Puerto Rico has not had any national legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This may change in the near future (at least for sexual orientation), as a gay rights bill (House Bill #1725) is now going through Puerto Rico's legislative process. First introduced on May 21, 2009 in the island's House of Representatives, it was finally approved by an overwhelming margin (by a 43 to 6 vote) on November 11, 2009. House Bill #1725 amends existing Puerto Rican civil rights laws to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the areas of employment, public transportation and public facilities, business transactions,and housing. Regrettably, the bill in its present form does not have provisions to protect transgender individuals.[1]

The bill was referred to Puerto Rico's Senate, and discussions in that Chamber started December 18, 2009. The Senate Committees for Labor & Human Resources, and for Civil Matters, are both reviewing the measure. Governor Luis Fortuño (a member of the island's New Progressive Party and affiliated with the mainland Republican Party) has indicated that the law needs to state exemptions for organizations that object to homosexuality on the grounds of beliefs.

Puerto Rico is also covered by U.S. federal law pertaining to hate crimes, which was recently amended to include sexual orientation and transgender persons as protected categories.

In addition to these developments, there are portions of the proposed revised Civil Code for Puerto Rico currently being reviewed by both Houses of the Legislature that impact LGBT residents. There is a proposal to insert into the Civil Code a provision to allow post-operative transsexuals to change the gender noted on their birth certificates. On the other hand, there is concern that some proposed clauses that invalidate so-called common law marriages may actually result in the reduction of rights (for example hospital visitations) for same-sex couples. It is significant that Puerto Rico's Roman Catholic Archbishop has proposed a concept called "shared residency" (residencia compartida) that would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and inheritance and insurance rights as well. However, the discussions surrounding these proposals have included demands by some conservatives that the Constitution be amended to forbid same sex marriages or civil unions.[2]

Sodomy Laws

In 2002, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that the commonwealth's ban on sodomy was not unconstitutional.[3] In 2003, however, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional all state and territorial statutes penalizing consensual sodomy, including Puerto Rico's, in the case Lawrence v. Texas.

This prompted opponents of the anti-gay law to focus their efforts to persuade lawmakers the change the law, which they did in 2005. Same-sex relations between consenting adults were officially legalized with the approval of the new Penal Code in 2005.[4]

Violence against LGBT community

The dismembered body of 19 year-old college student Jorge Steven López Mercado was discovered 14 November 2009 in Cayey, a city located in the island's interior region. López was widely known as a volunteer for organizations advocating HIV prevention and gay rights, and activists are planning remembrance vigils for him in cities including San Juan, New York and Chicago. According to local police, it is under investigation as a possible hate crime, under the newly approved U.S. Federal hate crimes law. Suspect Juan A. Martinez Matos was arrested a few days after López Mercado's body was discovered. His trial, which will commence on May 3, 2010 has raised the ire of many local activists, who hope that local prosecutors will prosecute him utilizing the newly enacted Federal Hate Crimes law.[5] On May 12, 2010, Matos pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the murder of López Mercado.[6]

On 19 April 2010, the body of Ashley Santiago, a transgendered woman who resided in the town of Corozal was discovered in the kitchen of her home. Santiago, a stylist at a local salon, was found naked on the floor and was stabbed 14 times by an unknown assailant.[7]


Military defense of Puerto Rico has been the responsibility of the US military, pursuant to the Treaty of Paris (1898) under which Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States. The US military has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding LGBT servicemembers, and this presumably applies to the island's National Guard as well.

Marriage Related Measures

In 2008, the Commonwealth's Senate passed a proposed referendum to voters that would have amended Puerto Rico's Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, banning same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnership benefits.[8] Better known as resolución 99 (resolution 99), the constitutional amendment was not approved by the Commonwealth's House of Representatives, after the legislative committee studying the proposal concluded not to recommend its approval. A similar bill was defeated in 2009.[9]

During the civil unions debate, attorney general Roberto Sánchez Ramos had declared it might be unconstitutional to deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.[10]

There has not been a constitutional challenge to Puerto Rico's version of the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.

In early January 2010, Governor Luis Fortuño told a group of evangelical ministers that he would work in further of an amendment to Puerto Rico's constitution that would restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman.[11]

History of LGBT movement in Puerto Rico

In 1973 the Comunidad de Orgullo Gay (the Gay Pride Community) was the first gay rights organization in Puerto Rico. In 1991, the Coalición Puertorriqueña de Lesbianas y Homosexuales (the Puerto Rican Lesbian and Gay Coalition) was also formed.[12] That same year, one of the first LGBT pride parades was organized in Puerto Rico, and subsequent events occur each year in San Juan and Cabo Rojo.[13]

Between the 1990s and 2008, various LGBT community groups arose, as there was more public discussion about sexual orientation, gender identity, human rights and the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Today, there are numerous Puerto Rican LGBT rights organizations and nightclubs.[14]

Political parties

Politicians from the Partido Popular Democrático and the Partido Nuevo Progresista de Puerto Rico, which are the island's two maain political parties, include both supporters and opponents of LGBT rights. This was most recently demonstrated by the House of Representatives vote on November 11, 2009, approving Bill 1725 (forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation). The bill passed by a vote of 43 to 6, with most Representatives from both parties voting in favor. The six Representatives voting against the bill were equally divided between both parties.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party is a member of the Socialist International, and is on record as supporting full rights for LGBT citizens. Other smaller left wing pro-independence groups are also on record supporting LGBT rights.

See also


  1. (
  2. Puerto Rico: In lieu of civil unions, de Castro Font offers "shared residence" measure
  3. Puerto Rico's Sodomy Law Just "Tip of the Iceberg"
  4. With the government in our bedrooms: A survey on the laws over the world prohibiting consenting adult sexual same-sex acts
  5. Suspect charged with murder in slaying of gay teen in Puerto Rico from CNN 18 November 2009
  6. Man jailed for 99 years for murder of Puerto Rican gay student from PinkNews 13 May 2010
  7. Transgender woman stabbed to death in Puerto Rico home from 20 April 2010
  8. Puerto Rico gov. allows referendum against gay marriage
  9. Good news for gays of Puerto Rico
  10. Puerto Rico: Progress on Gay Rights, But not AIDS
  11. Fortuño proposes ban on same-sex marriage
  12. The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Puerto Rico
  13. Pride in Puerto Rico
  14. Gay Puerto Rico


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