Puerto Rico: Activists Urge Letters of Support in Their Fight Against Criminalization of Same-Sex Consensual Relationships

Activists from Puerto Rico have called for international support of their efforts to amend Article 103 of the Puerto Rican Penal code which criminalizes consensual sexual relationships between persons of the same sex. Local activists have been educating the public about the existence of Article 103 and denouncing this statute as one that encourages discrimination and legitimizes violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) persons while also violating their constitutional right to privacy. Within the last few months efforts by the religious right to further curtail human rights for the lgbt community have intensified, and on August 29th two legislators presented a bill that would reiterate that persons of the same sex cannot marry. Such a ban already exists in the Puerto Rican Civil Code, which only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. During public hearings in the legislature various members of the lgbt community made presentations before the commission reviewing the bill. Among them was Margarita Sánchez de León of the Movimiento Ecuménico Nacional de Puerto Rico (the National Ecumenical Movement of Puerto Rico, MENPRI). During her presentation on October 15th, Ms. Sánchez was questioned by the legislators demanding to know if MENPRI was a duly constituted organization. Legislators directly asked Ms. Sánchez about her sexual orientation, a question which had not been asked of any of the other participants in the hearings. Members of the commission went so far as to say that they had been exceedingly "tolerant" in not arresting her or any of the other lgbt testifiers, as if by virtue of their sexual orientation they were presumed to have broken the sodomy laws. Ms. Sánchez appeared thereafter in a radio show where she publicly admitted having violated Article 103 and encouraging the authorities to arrest her. She also called for a meeting of diverse activists and community organizations which formed the Coalition Against Article 103 and For Privacy Rights. The coalition is composed of lgbt organization as well as non-gay organizations and other individuals. The Coalition supports the decriminalization of mutual consent relationships between adult persons of the same sex. On November 4th, 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." The Project for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Human Rights submitted a draft bill on November 5th that proposes an amendment to the Penal Code that would eliminate as a crime, sexual relationships between consenting adults. Members of the Coalition will be lobbying the legislature to insure passage of this bill. The Coalition is also examining the possibility of bringing a civil suit questioning the constitutionality of Article 103. 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. Local activists have asked that letters of support be sent to the following individuals:

Senador Charlie Rodríguez Presidente del Senado de Puerto Rico El Capitolio
San Juan Puerto Rico 00901
Edison Misla Aldarondo Presidente de la Cámara de Representantes de Puerto Rico
El Capitolio San Juan Puerto Rico 00901
Jorge Santini Presidente Comisi„n de lo Jurídico Penal Senado de Puerto Rico
El Capitolio San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901
Augusto Sánchez Fuentes Presidente Comisión de lo Jurídico Penal
Cámara de Representantes de Puerto Rico El Capitolio Apartado 9022228 San Juan, Puerto Rico 00902-2228 Fax: 721-6783