HAVANA, July 21 (Reuters) - The draft of Cuba's new constitution opens the path to gay marriage by defining matrimony as between two individuals rather than between a man and a woman, a top government official told parliament on Saturday. The Caribbean island nation has made great strides over the past decade on rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, after persecuting them in the early years after its 1959 revolution and sending many to correctional labor camps.
The Communist-run country has approved sex-change operations and banned workplace discrimination against LGBT people, but proposals to recognize same-sex unions have stalled in view of the slow legislative process and lingering stigma in the macho society.
"The possibility of marriage between two people strengthens our project's principles of equality and justice," the secretary of the council of state Homero Acosta told lawmakers meeting to analyze the draft to replace Cuba's 1976 Magna Carta.
"Already 24 countries have included this concept and we could not ignore this issue as we drafted the constitution."
The move reflects a trend in Latin America where same-sex couples have been allowed to marry in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and some parts of Mexico in recent years, despite church opposition.
Acosta said further legal changes would be needed on the issue of gay marriage.
The daughter of former President Raul Castro, Mariela Castro, has spearheaded the campaign for greater LGBT rights in Cuba, giving it greater prominence in the national agenda.
"We need to have a different, more inclusive view of marriage," said Castro, the head of National Center for Sex Education, told lawmakers on Friday.
Raul Castro, who passed on the presidency to his mentee Miguel Diaz-Canel in April, is heading the commission on constitutional reform.
Lawmakers are expected to approve the draft constitution this weekend, and then put it to a popular consultation and later in the year a national referendum. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Editing by Franklin Paul)