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Castro’s daughter sponsors blessing of Cuban same-sex couples

Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, carries a gay pride flag before giving blessings to couples from the LGBT community in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015.
Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, carries a gay pride flag before giving blessings to couples from the LGBT community in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. Desmond Boylan, AP

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Mariela Castro, who is the most visible gay rights advocate on the island, uses her position as a member of Cuba’s ruling family to push for reforms. Last year, as a member of parliament, she voted against a workers’ rights bill that she felt didn’t go far enough to prevent discrimination against people with HIV or with unconventional gender identities.

It was an unprecedented action in an assembly that uniformly votes unanimously in favor of government proposals.

Castro did not attend the blessing ceremony, but headed a colorful gay rights march by more than 1,000 people along one of Havana’s main streets.

A few minutes after Mederos and Morales, Belkis Gonzalez and Maria de los Angeles Machin stepped up to receive their blessing. A couple since 1989, they raised Machin’s son and Gonzalez’s daughter together.

“This blessing means a lot to us,” said Gonzalez, a 48-year-old screenwriter. “It’s a reaffirmation that we have a relationship of love and we aren’t hurting anyone. If God put us together, it’s because we wanted us to be united.”

The event came a day before another manifestation of changed times in Cuba: Raul Castro’s visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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The church and the Cuban government were in a state of open hostility in the years after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power. But a thaw began in the 1990s. Cuba removed a constitutional clause declaring the country an atheist state, Pope John Paul II paid a momentous visit in 1998, Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012, and Cuba made Good Friday an official holiday.

Raul Castro was expected to discuss both diplomatic talks with the U.S. and the pope’s planned September visit to Cuba when he visits the pontiff on Sunday.

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