International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission, July 2, 2002
As the Puerto Rican Senate considers amendments to its Penal Code, local
activists are pushing for the repeal of Article 103, which penalizes same-sex
sexual relations, as well as for a more accurate definition of
"rape." (The current law defines rape in such a way that it can only
be committed against women.)
In May, the President of the Commonwealth’s Chamber of Representatives,
Mr. Carlos Vizcarrando, made public statements opposing those reforms, citing
Puerto Rican "Christian" and "Latin American" traditions.
Mr. Vizcarrando’s statements are particularly ironic when the actual
situation of sodomy laws in Latin America and the history of the Puerto Rican
penal code are examined. The vast majority of Latin American nations have
decriminalized sodomy where such laws existed, and many never had sodomy laws
to begin with.
Indeed, the harshest penalties for same-sex sexual relations can be found
in penal codes inspired/imposed by or inherited from North American and
British penal codes: such penalties are (like the original language of the
Puerto Rican provision) a legacy of colonialism. Article 103 derives from the
California Penal Code, which served as a model for the original Puerto Rico
Code imposed by the us imposed in 1902, shortly after acquiring its new
Caribbean possessions. Originally the law penalized "acts against nature,
committed with another human being or with a beast," with 1 to 10 years
In 1974 the Penal Code was reviewed: bestiality was newly treated as a
separate "crime," and the punishment for same-sex relations was
increased to a mandatory 10-year term.
IGLHRC is working with Puerto Rican activists to challenge the inaccurate
identification of sodomy laws with Latin American cultural identity, and to
press for a definition of rape that takes consent rather than biological sex
as its basis.