This headline makes me smile. It’s an incredible feeling of joy and peace. I think of how many times I have read kids’ books to our son that include with two moms, wishing that they were Cuban stories. Our son Paulo has two brave moms and I’m one of them.
Starting a Modern Family
Just over a year ago, in May 2019, my wife Hope and I travelled from Havana, Cuba to her hometown in Tallahassee, Florida, to welcome our first baby. Although we live in Havana and have a maternity hospital three blocks away, we had to fly 500 miles away for our baby Paulo to be born. The Civil Registry Law in Cuba issues birth certificates for moms and dads, but “mom and mom” and “dad and dad” families are out of luck. Same-sex marriage has been widely debated in Cuba in recent years, particularly in the context of the drafting of the new constitution, and an update to the Family Code is on the docket for March 2021.
Despite having a health care system that provides access to fertility services with no charge, same-sex couples are excluded.
But I´m getting ahead of myself. For us, just getting pregnant took some creativity. Hope and I have been together for 5 years and we live and work in Havana. We knew from the start that we wanted to have kids. Despite having a health care system that provides access to fertility services with no charge, same-sex couples are excluded. Getting a male friend involved would come with a lot of uncertainty regarding parental rights, so we decided to travel abroad for fertility treatment. After a whirlwind 72-hour road trip across Florida we returned to Cuba, fingers crossed, to wait for the good news.
Cuban citizenship was automatic for Paulo if Hope gave birth in Havana, but I would not be legally recognized as his mom.
A Blank Space on the Birth Certificate
Once we were back home with our little Paulo growing inside my wife’s belly, we talked to a lawyer. We learned that Cuban citizenship was automatic for Paulo if Hope gave birth in Havana, but I would not be legally recognized as his mom. Paulo would have only her last name and the space where the birth certificate asks for a father would be blank. Giving birth in Florida offered us a chance at having our parental rights recognized in Cuba when we returned.
Flying to the US was not an easy decision. I left behind my family and friends, my home, my comfort zone, my language, for the hope of going back to Cuba with a happy and healthy baby and a birth certificate that said what we already knew: we are his moms. I remember every detail of the day our baby was born. Minutes after he came into the world, I cut the umbilical cord and hugged Paulo to my bare chest. The next day we filled out the birth certificate to make it official, our baby had two moms.
One day, I got an email telling me that I could pick up Paulo’s Cuban birth certificate! We knew what that meant: two legal moms, one future legal Cuban baby.
Coming home was another journey. A couple of days before Paulo turned three months old, I posted on Facebook: ¨Does anyone know how to apply for the Cuban citizenship for the child of a Cuban born abroad?¨ I got a bunch of messages from friends who had been in the same situation or who had worked in Cuban embassies. The procedure isn’t complicated: after legalizing the birth certificate in the state where the baby was born, you send it to the U.S. State Department to be legalized again. These documents together with a certified translation and fee are sent to the Cuban Embassy, which registers the child in a Special Civil Registry that issues the official Cuban birth certificate. For my friends the process had been quick and painless.
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Although we had turned in all the required documents, the Cuban Embassy explained via email that Cuban law didn’t allow for two moms on a birth certificate and they couldn’t complete the registration without authorization from the Ministry of Justice. They promised that things would work out, but asked us to return to Cuba to wait.
The first birth certificate in Cuban history with two moms.
A week after returning to Havana I delivered a letter to the Ministry of Justice asking for help. Two months later we heard that the Ministry of Justice had issued a decision allowing Paulo to be registered with his two moms. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Havana helped send all our documents to the Cuban Embassy in Washington again, but months later we were still waiting. Suddenly, the distant headlines about coronavirus began to appear in our local news. Everything started to change very quickly with measures to stop the expansion of the virus and many state offices shut down.
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May was coming and with it, Paulo’s first birthday. We were beginning to feel desperate and started calling offices, writing letters and sending emails again. Then one day, I got an email telling me that I could pick up Paulo’s Cuban birth certificate! We knew what that meant: two legal moms, one future legal Cuban baby. I grabbed my mask and jumped on my bike. When I arrived, they realized that although they had received authorization from the top, their software didn’t allow them to write mother and mother. We had to wait for the programmer to change the software. Two days later we finally had it in our hands. The first birth certificate in Cuban history with two moms.
The Cuban birth certificate includes this wording: “the registration is under both mothers as it is a case of double maternity, with legal support in Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, which also recognizes the right to form a family, whatever its form of organization and safeguards the best interests of the child and his/her right to be registered.”
The story isn’t over yet. When quarantine ends we can start the citizenship application and it will probably take some time, but sooner or later we will be writing a happy ending to this Cuban story.