Last edited: November 23, 2003

Puerto Rico: Cultural Identity, Colonialism, and Sodomy Laws

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 of imprisonment.

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.

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