When you ask Cubans about the pros and cons of marriage, they smile at first, but then get serious, as if they were viewing a tragicomedy.
Reinier Biscet, 28, has a girlfriend whom he "loves very much." She "really loves him," but marriage is impossible now because they claim he can't go live with her nor can she live with him. After two years of dating, the young Cuban sees his story repeating itself. "Usually young people think marriage is more responsibility and if you do not have enough to provide for one person, how are you going to provide for two?," he asks.
For some years now, Cuban couples have lost the incentive to sign a marriage certificate. In Cuba, marriage allows couples the ability to purchase things that you wouldn't normally be able to buy, at a discounted price. It's sort of like a govermental wedding gift.
Maria, who lives in Camagüey, and preferred to keep her last name anonymous, married twice to be able to drink beer for New Year's. Carlos, who also didn't want to give any details of his identity, recalls that in his time they would give suits to wear. The latest was the access to hotels, and "we even lost that," says a rueful Yuliana, who lives in Jatibonico.
For sociologist Regina Coyula, "If they are in love, all is well. And if they can have a room in their parents and grandparents house, that's a privilege. These relationships are more along the lines of boyfriend/girlfriend than of marriage. You do your thing and I'll do mine," says Coyula.
Mercedes Martinez, 25, a resident of the province of Granma went before a notary to formalize her "wife" status a year ago. "It's not the role, but the responsibility and commitment it represents," said Martinez. She believes that "those who are not married do not want to have any kind of obligation." However, for other young people like her, the absence of a ring allows them to study, improve their lot in life, or to find a prince charming that will whisk them away from their country.
The "machismo" in Cuban society is, according to Marcia E. Mustelier, another factor that affects legal unions. "They are deeply rooted in patriarchal customs and the man tries to exert power over the couple and it is difficult," adds Marcia, who right now, with a teenage son, prefers to feel independent. Closely linked to machismo is the economic situation in the country, which has led long-time married men with children to send their wives to prostitute themselves.
But it's not all negative, says lawyer Leonardo Calvo. Cubans are not afraid to marry because divorce is not as "complicated" or "traumatic," as it is for example, in the United States. Yes, disputes exist when separations occur, but they do not represent a major economic loss or change, Calvo says. His colleague, Roberto de Jesus Quinones, of Chrisitan faith, argues that marriage is a natural way to create family although today other means exist. "The option to choose or not lies with the people," he insists.
According to Cuban popular culture, "love from afar" is not very well regarded, but more and more residents of the United States go to the island to find a partner. For Angel Garcia, this constitutes a problem of "culture and economy," which many opt to pursue.
Cuba is among the countries that does not allow gay marriage. Recent data confirm that 56.8 percent of the Cuban population greater than 12 years old have a conjugal bond and 27.1 percent of those--almost half--are consensual.