Puerto Rico: Activists Begin Forty-Eight Hour Fast In Front Of Capitol Building

on September 1st at 5:00 PM a group of Puerto Rican activists and supporters carried out a forty-eight hour fast in protest of the continuing existence of Article 103 of the Penal Code known also as the sodomy law. In Puerto Rico consensual same-sex relations are a serious crime which can carry a sentence of up to ten years in prison. The fast took place in front of the State Capitol building of San Juan, Puerto Rico - the site where laws are examined and approved. The Puerto Rican legislature has been an active force in bringing legislative measures against the LGBT community. As recently as March of this year, the legislature approved Law 94 which prevents same-sex marriages from being recognized under the law even when carried out within other countries or states' jurisdictions. The purpose of the fast was also to denounce the homophobic actions that prevail in every social institution of the country. This fast is part of Expression at 5 o'clock - a weekly protest which takes place in front of the Capitol every Friday at 5 PM. This weekly protest is intended to assert the presence of the GLUT community in Puerto Rico and to transform a courageous act of visibility into one of non-violence and resistance to the homophobic hatred faced by gays, lesbians and transgender people within society. The group is asking for the support of the international community in writing letters of solidarity and asking state authorities for the immediate repeal of Article 103. Messages should be sent to the presidents of the legislative bodies:

Hon. Charlie Rodriguez Presidente del Senado
email: crodriguez@senado.gvmt.pr.us Fax: (787) 724-2010
Hon. Edison Misla Aldarondo Presidente de la Cámara de Representantes
email: rreyes@oslgate.osl.clu.edu Fax: (787) 727-2827

To learn more details about the fast visit www.art103.org Sample letter:

Hon. Charlie Rodriguez President of the Senate of Puerto Rico The sodomy law (Article 103) as it has been conceived constitutes a violation of every individual's right to privacy by the State. The current text of Article 103 promotes discrimination against a significant sector of the population. This funadamental question of rights has provided the grounds upon which a great number of countries and states in the U.S have striken mutually-consenting sodomy from their penal codes. I urge the legislative body over which you preside to promptly consider decriminalizing the act of sodomy within the context of consenting adult relationships. Respectfully, (Signature) (Name) (Address)

Please send a copy of your letter to:

Proyecto Derechos Humanos
Apartado 22029 Estación UPR San Juan, PR 00931-2029

Background

Ever since the Coalition Against Article 103 and For Privacy Rights was formed in 1997, local activists in Puerto Rico have been calling on the international community to lend its support in helping repeal Article 103 of the Puerto Rico Penal Code which criminalizes mutually consenting relationships between adult persons of the same sex. Article 103 violates the human rights of the LGBT community in Puerto Rico by depriving its members of the rights to privacy and free expression, both of which are guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights (Articles 11 and 13). Furthermore, as affirmed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in its 1995 decision Toonen v. Australia, the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults violates Articles 2 (equal protection) and 17 (right to privacy) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In turn the Coalition - an alliance comprised of LGBT organizations, community groups and non-gay identified human rights organizations - has been educating the public about the social implications of Article 103 and denouncing the fact that this statute encourages discrimination and legitimizes violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons while also violating their constitutional right to privacy. Through presentations and discussions at schools, universities, radio and TV, the Coalition has managed to engage a large sector of Puerto Rican society in a public debate about Article 103 and its repercussions. Many human rights, feminist and religious groups have joined this sensitization campaign, thus expanding the diversity of voices which oppose Article 103 in principle and action. In defiance of the disputable constitutionality of Article 103, Margarita Sánchez de León one of the forces behind the coalition and a member of the Movimiento Ecuménico Nacional de Puerto Rico (the National Ecumenical Movement of Puerto Rico, MENPRI), appeared on a radio show where she publicly admitted having violated Article 103 by virtue of her sexual orientation, and encouraged the authorities to arrest her. On November 4th,1997, Ms. Sánchez turned herself in to the Division of Sexual Crimes of the Department of Justice where San Juan District Attorney Ramón Muñiz Santiago declined to prosecute her. The District Attorney informed her that lesbians are incapable of committing sodomy since they lack a "virile member;" he added that he would not prosecute two homosexual men under this statute because there would be no victim. The Justice Department issued a press release on the same day refusing to prosecute the case because Ms. Sánchez had a "personal agenda in delivering her confession." Within the last few years efforts by the religious right to further curtail human rights for the LGBT community have intensified. The recent ratification of Law 94, which bans the recognition of same-sex marriages, stands as a clear example. Such a ban already exists in the Puerto Rican Civil Code, which only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. The Project for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Human Rights submitted a draft bill on November 5th, 1997 that proposed an amendment to the Penal Code that would eliminate as a crime, sexual relationships between consenting adults. Up to date the draft bill has received no endorsement from any member of the Legislative Assembly, but the Coalition continues to lobby legislators asking for a revision of Article 103. On the last day of the fast (September 3rd, 1999) the activists submitted a similar draft bill to each Assembly member striving to gain an endorsement that will enable the bill to be admitted into the legislature for review. Furthermore, in 1998 the Coalition brought a civil suit against the government challenging the constitutionality of Article 103 and the harm it inflicts on the LGBT community. The government responded with a motion to dismiss arguing that the alleged harm is not real but rather abstract. The suit is currently pending in an Appellate Superior Court where a judge has called for a discussion on the motion to dismiss. The Coalition's lawyers are preparing a rebuttal to the government's motion.