May 142015
 
Hundreds of people attend a march against homophobia in Havana

Hundreds of people attend a march against homophobia in Havana – May 2015.
Photo: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA

The daughter of Raul Castro, the Cuban president, has sponsored a religious blessing ceremony for gay couples in a dramatic sign of the changing face of the Communist island. In the past, homosexuals were persecuted but Mariela Castro (married straight woman) has championed LGBTI rights.

Mariela Castro supported the ceremony with visiting protestant priests from North America in a celebration that bore many hallmarks of same-sex marriage, a practice that remains illegal in Cuba.

More than 20 gay couples held hands, embraced and at times wept as the clergymen blessed them as part of the official Cuban ceremonies ahead of the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17.

Mariela Castro, centre, marches at the eighth annual March against Homophobia and Transphobia in Havana (Reuters)

Ms Castro, an MP who heads the Centre for Sex Education in Havana, is the most prominent champion of gay rights in the country and led a colourful march by more than 1,000 campaigners waving the rainbow colours and Cuban flags along one of the capital’s main streets.

Under Fidel’s Rule

Under Fidel’s rule,  homosexuals were often jailed as “ideological deviants” while Cubans with HIV/Aids were at one time rounded up and held in camps.

When Fidel handed over power to his brother, he has spoken of his regret of the way he treated homosexuals during his regime.

Big Ceremony and Blessings

In the ceremony, a crowd of about 300 cheered and applauded as pastors blessed the couples.

Luis Enrique Mederos, 47, said that he hoped the ceremony would mark a step towards the legalisation of gay marriage in Cuba after a Los Angeles-based pastor blessed his relationship with Alain Morales, his partner of 14 years.

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