HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban gay rights activists led by the daughter of President Raul Castro plan a mass symbolic wedding on Saturday to promote acceptance of gay and transgender Cubans in a country once notoriously hostile toward them.
The ceremony will be part of an annual gay pride parade and will be symbolic because same-sex marriage is illegal in Cuba, Mariela Castro told reporters. She said it would also be low key because Cuban society is still uneasy about full rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"We can't do a wedding, but we wanted to have a very modest celebration of love with some religious leaders," said Castro, head of the National Sex Education Center and a member of Cuba's National Assembly. "In the future we'll see what more we can do."
The participating Cuban religious leaders will be evangelical Christians, she said. Cuba's predominant religion is Roman Catholicism.
The ceremony was inspired by the mass wedding of more than 100 couples at the World Pride event in Toronto last June, Castro said.
Castro said she also wanted other Cubans to be able to share the experience she and her husband had of a spiritual but unofficial ceremony blessed by a religious leader.
Among those attending on Saturday are Roger LaRade and Silvia Gonzalez of Toronto's Eucharistic Catholic Church, which is independent of the Roman Catholic Church and took part in the Toronto ceremony.
Cuban gays have made great strides in recent years, largely because of Mariela Castro's political standing, but same-sex marriage and civil unions remain illegal.
Some public attitudes changed when retired leader Fidel Castro admitted in 2010 that he had been wrong to discriminate against gays, who were sent to labor camps in the early years after the 1959 revolution.
Cuba's National Assembly last year approved a labor law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. But Mariela Castro voted against the law in an extremely rare and possibly unprecedented dissenting vote because the law did not also ban discrimination based on gender identity.
Cuba's one-party political system traditionally operates on consensus, which Castro said was one reason lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Cubans still lack full legal rights.
"There is a fear that this will tear Cuban society apart," Castro said. But, she said she believed it would not create a rupture. "It will create cultural and ideological enrichment."
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman