LGBT rights in Puerto Rico

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LGBT rights in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 2003
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protections Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited in employment
Family rights
Recognition of
Domestic violence law protects couples regardless of sexual orientation or marital status
Statute limits marriage to one man and one woman (1999)
Adoption No

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons in Puerto Rico face some legal issues. Public discussion and debate about sexual orientation and gender identity issues has increased, and some legal changes have been made. Supporters and opponents of legislation protecting the rights of LGBT persons can be found in both of the major political parties. Public opposition still exists due, in large part, to the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as socially conservative Protestants. Puerto Rico's status as a United States commonwealth has a great influence over legal rights of LGBT citizens.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional all state and territorial statutes penalizing consensual sodomy, when limited to non-commercial acts between consenting adults in private. The case, Lawrence v. Texas applied to the law in Puerto Rico as well. A year earlier, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court had ruled that the commonwealth's ban on sodomy was not unconstitutional.[1]

Puerto Rico's 2004 Penal Code removed its sodomy statute as it applies to private, non-commercial sexual activity between consenting adults from its criminal code.[2]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

On March 19, 1999, Governor Pedro Rosselló signed into law H.B. 1013, which defined marriage as "a civil contract whereby a man and a woman mutually agree to become husband and wife."[3]

In 2008, the Commonwealth's Senate passed a proposed referendum to voters that would have amended Puerto Rico's Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, banning same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnership benefits.[4] Better known as resolución 99 (resolution 99), the constitutional amendment was not approved by the Commonwealth's House of Representatives, after the legislative committee studying the proposal concluded not to recommend its approval. A similar bill was defeated in 2009.[5]

During the civil unions debate, attorney general Roberto Sánchez Ramos had declared it might be unconstitutional to deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.[6]

In early January 2010, Governor Luis Fortuño made comments to a group of evangelical ministers that indicated he favored amending Puerto Rico's constitution to restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman.[7] However, shortly afterwards he categorically denied that he favored such a measure.[8]

In 2013, Governor Garcia Padilla signed an order extending health insurance coverage to the same-sex domestic partners of workers in the executive branch.[9] That same year, Representatives Luis Vega Ramos, Carlos Vargas Ferrer and José Báez Rivera introduced House Bill 488 to extend domestic violence protections to all households, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.[10] The House passed the legislation on 24 May.[9] Governor Garcia Padilla signed the legislation into law on 29 May.[11]

Court cases[edit]

Two men residing in Puerto Rico, represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico on March 25, 2014, seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage. They initially named as defendants in their suit, Conde v. Rius, Puerto Rico's secretary of health and registrar of vital statistics, later adding the governor and treasury director, retitling the case Conde v. Padilla. They claimed that Puerto Rico's marriage law denied them constitutional rights guaranteed under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.[12][13]


A gay rights bill (House Bill #1725) was introduced on May 21, 2009 in the island's House of Representatives, and it was approved by a 43 to 6 vote on November 11, 2009.[14] House Bill #1725 would have amended existing Puerto Rican civil rights laws to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the areas of employment, public transportation and public facilities, business transactions, and housing. The legislation addressed sexual orientation only, not gender identity. The bill was referred to Puerto Rico's Senate and first discussed on December 18, 2009. The Senate Committees for Labor & Human Resources, and for Civil Matters, were both reviewing the measure. However, the President of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, a vocal opponent of the legislation, stated in early April 2010 on the Senate floor that the legislation would not be approved by the Senate. The Senate held no hearings and took no action.[15] At the same time, Governor Luis Fortuño, a member of the island's New Progressive Party and affiliated with the mainland Republican Party) indicated that any gay rights law needs to state exemptions for organizations that object to homosexuality on the grounds of beliefs.

In addition to these developments, there are portions of the proposed revised Civil Code for Puerto Rico that have been reviewed by both Houses of the Legislature that impact LGBT residents. This included a proposal to insert into the Civil Code a provision to allow post-operative transsexuals to change the gender noted on their birth certificates. On the other hand, there is concern that some proposed clauses that invalidate so-called common law marriages may actually result in the reduction of rights (for example hospital visitations) for same-sex couples. It is significant that Puerto Rico's Roman Catholic Archbishop had proposed a concept called "shared residency" (residencia compartida) that would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and inheritance and insurance rights as well. However, the discussions surrounding these proposals have included demands by some conservatives that the Constitution be amended to forbid same sex marriages or civil unions.[16]

In 2013, Senator Ramón Luis Nieves introduced Senate Bill 238 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It acquired 14 co-sponsors, assuring its passage.[17] The Senate approved the legislation 15 to 11. By the time it passed by the House on a vote of 29 to 22 on 24 May, it had been amended to apply only to employment discrimination.[9] After final action by the Senate, Governor Garcia Padilla signed the legislation into law on 29 May.[11]

Hate crime[edit]

In 2002 Puerto Rico amended its hate crime statutes to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.[18] Puerto Rico is also covered by U.S. federal law, notably the Matthew Shepard Act.


The Military defense of Puerto Rico has been the responsibility of the U.S. military, pursuant to the Treaty of Paris (1898) under which Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States. The U.S. military formerly had a "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy regarding LGBT service members, and this presumably applied to the island's National Guard as well. The policy was repealed in December 2010 and ended on September 22, 2011.

Political parties[edit]

Politicians from the Partido Popular Democrático and the Partido Nuevo Progresista de Puerto Rico, which are the island's two main political parties, include both supporters and opponents of LGBT rights. This was most recently demonstrated by the House of Representatives vote on November 11, 2009, approving Bill 1725 (forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation). The bill passed by a vote of 43 to 6, with most Representatives from both parties voting in favor. The six Representatives voting against the bill were equally divided between both parties.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party is a member of the Socialist International, and is on record as supporting full rights for LGBT citizens. Other smaller left wing pro-independence groups are also on record supporting LGBT rights. In the Puerto Rican general election, 2012, all of the recently founded parties–Movimiento Unión Soberanista, the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party, and the Working People's Party of Puerto Rico–supported marriage equality and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.[19]

On November 6, 2012, Popular Democratic Party candidate Pedro Peters Maldonado became the first openly gay politician elected to public office in the island's history, when he won a seat on San Juan's city council.[20]

Living conditions[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (since 2003)
Equal age of consent Yes (since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (since 2013)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Extent unclear (See United States v. Windsor)
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Yes for domestic violence purposes since 2013)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (since 2011)
Right to change legal gender Yes (since 2002)
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
Hate crimes law Yes (since 2004)
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Puerto Rico's Sodomy Law Just "Tip of the Iceberg"". Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ "2004 Penal Code of Puerto Rico" (PDF). Retrieved February 7, 2014. 
  3. ^ "H.B. 1013". Oficina de Servicios Legislativos. March 19, 1999. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Puerto Rico gov. allows referendum against gay marriage". USA Today. January 23, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  5. ^ Good news for gays of Puerto Rico[dead link]
  6. ^ "Puerto Rico: Progress on Gay Rights, But not AIDS". July 13, 2007. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  7. ^ Unlimited Studios. "Fortuño proposes ban on same-sex marriage". Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c "Puerto Rico Outlaws Discrimination Based On Gender Or Sexual Orientation". Fox News Latino. May 25, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b "Puerto Rico governor signs bills for gay rights". U.S. News and World Report. May 29, 2013. Retrieved May 30, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Conde v. Rius, 14-1253". United States District Court of Puerto Rico. Scribd. March 25, 2014. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Puerto Rican Wants Same-Sex Marriages Recognized". ABC News. March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Cámara de Representantes de Puerto Rico Decimosexta Asamblea Legislativa P C1725 Certificación de Votación". November 11, 2009. Retrieved June 25, 2011. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Andrés Duque (November 27, 2007). "Puerto Rico: In lieu of civil unions, de Castro Font offers "shared residence" measure". Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "H. B. 96". Oficina de Servicios Legislativos. March 4, 2002. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  19. ^ Los partidos políticos y las comunidades LGBTT from September 19, 2012
  20. ^ Homosexual gana por primera vez unas elecciones en la Isla from El Nuevo Dia November 7, 2012