The lengthy rule of Cuban President Fidel Castro was marked by a decades of homophobia, and saw the LGBT community hounded and persecuted, but later in his life, according to Wikipedia, he said he regretted this abuse of human rights. In his autobiography My Life, he criticised the machismo culture of Cuba and urged for the acceptance of homosexuality. He made several speeches to the public regarding discrimination against homosexuals. In a 2010 interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro called the persecution of homosexuals while he was in power “a great injustice, great injustice!” Taking responsibility for the persecution, he said, “If anyone is responsible, it’s me . . . We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with that matter [of homosexuals]. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions.” Castro, now approaching his 90th birthday, said that the negative treatment of gays in Cuba arose out of the country’s pre-revolutionary attitudes toward homosexuality. After handing power to his brother Raul in 2008, the elder Castro said he regretted this persecution, and Cuba has since been granting increasing rights to its gay population. However, the country still does not recognise same-sex marriage, civil unions, or any other form of same-sex arrangements. A civil union proposal was first made in 2007, though was never brought up for a vote. It was announced that new legislation was going to be presented in September 2009, with a bill offering all the rights of marriage in Cuba as “civil unions”. The bill was reportedly before the country’s Parliament and promoted by Mariela Castro, pictured top centre. She is Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuba’s President Raul Castro. If the bill had then been approved, it would have made Cuba the first Caribbean state to recognise same-sex unions. It would also have been the first communist country to pass any form of recognition of same-sex couples. But, to date the legislation remains stalled in Parliament. Mariela Castro has said the legislation has the support of her father and that she is building a consensus in order to approve it. Her latest efforts to speed up progress took the form of a blessing ceremony for gay couples that she sponsored in May. The Huffington Post reported that almost two dozen couples held hands or embraced, some crying, as Protestant clergymen from the US.and Canada blessed them as part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. While she was careful not to call the ceremony a wedding, the event had most of the trappings of matrimony. Luis Enrique Mederos and his partner for 14 years, Alain Morales, approached clergymen including Troy Perry, founder of Los Angeles’ gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church, and held hands beneath a canopy while the pastors blessed their relationship. “Luis, I give you my life,” Morales said, as the crowd of 300 applauded and cheered. “It’s a step to strengthen our relationship because we’re both religious, believers,” said Mederos, a 47-year-old graphic designer. He said he saw the ceremony as an important step towardd the eventual legalisation of gay marriage in Cuba. “It’s a dream for the Cuban gay and transgender community that one day it won’t be just symbolic and we can get married, because we’re also part of this changing world,” he said, embracing Morales, 38. 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 favour of government proposals.