SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The advance of gay rights across the United States is spreading into Puerto Rico, making the island a relatively gay-friendly outpost in a Caribbean region where sodomy laws and harassment of gays are still common.
The governing Popular Democratic Party is pushing a bill through the legislature that would outlaw discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, a step taken by about half of U.S. states. Another bill would extend a domestic violence law to gay couples.
Soon after taking office in January, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an order extending health insurance coverage to the live-in partners of workers in his executive branch of government, regardless of gender.
And a popular former conservative governor, Pedro Rossello, surprised supporters and foes when he stated last month that he unequivocally supports gay marriage.
“We’re in a period where it’s important to talk about human rights,” said Rossello, who 14 years ago signed a law as governor to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages held abroad.
“This is extraordinary,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a Puerto Rican gay activist. “We’ve reached a point of no return in Puerto Rico ... Equality is inevitable.”
“The issues that we’re discussing publicly now would have been unthinkable a couple decades ago,” said Osvaldo Burgos, spokesman for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equality, which represents more than a dozen local human rights organizations.
Gay rights activists also say they are encouraged that the island’s Justice Department is prosecuting its first hate crime case for the killing of a hairstylist who was set on fire.
The momentum has not all been one way, however. The island’s Supreme Court last week narrowly upheld a law that bars same-sex couples from adopting children. Despite a string of legalizations in the U.S. over the past decade, adoptions by same-sex couples remain banned in many U.S. states as well.