This article explores the 1940 Cuban Constituent Assembly debates about consensual unions and birth status as legislators created a new legal process called equiparación de matrimonio civil that would grant to citizens in consensual unions the same rights and benefits that legally married citizens enjoyed. Equiparación, if granted, could enable a child born to unmarried parents to change his or her birth status in formal records. While some legislators considered the creation of the new constitution an opportunity to erase existing privileges and protections based upon outdated social and moral hierarchies embedded in Cuban legal structures, others argued that “family” issues had no place in a constitution. The Constituent Assembly’s debates about birth status illuminate how issues concerning sexual propriety and family were intertwined with antidiscrimination efforts during Cuban state formation. Nevertheless, legislators’ lofty ideas about equiparación contrast sharply with ordinary citizens’ attempts to claim their newly extended rights in judicial courts. A comparison of the legislators’ debates and ordinary Cubans’ efforts in the courtrooms to claim equiparación exposes the core contradictions between maintaining discriminatory and disenfranchising social hierarchies and protecting the fundamental equality of citizens during a period of democratic renovation in Cuba in the 1930s and 1940s. On a broader level, this article links the history of the family, law, and state formation to narratives of historical change and the production and reproduction of social hierarchies based upon race, class, and gender in modern Latin America.

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