By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's National Assembly on Friday approved a sweeping update of its family law which opens the door to allowing gay marriage, greater women's rights, and increased protections for children, the elderly and other family members.
The new Families Code will be put to a referendum vote on Sept. 25 after being debated in community meetings earlier this year, where organizers said 62% of participants expressed their support.
That is relatively low by Cuban standards, where the recently-passed new constitution was approved with 86% of the vote. Policy proposals in previous referendums have seen support of around 95%.
The code promoted "love, affection, care, sensitivity, respect for others and the harmony of our families," Justice Minister Oscar Manuel Silvera said, presenting the code for the vote at the National Assembly.
Opponents to the rule change include many churches.
"What has been happening is sad because it is going to bring confrontation," said Methodist pastor Henry Nurse.
"It goes against what has been taught for many generations of years throughout the world about the true traditional marriage that is between a man and a woman," he said.
The new code would legalize same-sex marriage and civil unions, allow same-sex couples to adopt children, and promote equal sharing of domestic responsibilities. It will also allow prenuptial agreements and surrogate pregnancies, though not for profit.
Parents would have "responsibility" instead of "custody" of children, and be required to be "respectful of the dignity and physical and mental integrity of children and adolescents."
Cuba is already a regional front-runner in women's rights. Women head up nearly 50% of households and make up 60% of professionals, have free access to abortion, and can claim up to two years' maternity leave.
A Havana couple who have lived together for many years but were never able to have children, Ria Acosta Cruz and Gabriela Alfonso, said it was their human right to marry and adopt children.
"The opportunity it gives us is that of marriage. The fact of being able to opt together for certain things and certain legal procedures that we need as a couple and not as independent people," Alfonso said.
Acosta said it met their expectations as a family.
"We are a marriage. We have the plans together, the economy together. It is not fair that this possibility does not exist," she said.
(The story corrects name of person in paragraph 11 to Ria)
(Additional reporting by Marc Frank and Reuters television, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)