Updated at: 08/14/2013 12:35 PM
By DANICA COTO
(AP) SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Religious groups gathered Wednesday in front of Puerto Rico’s seaside capitol to protest proposed laws that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children and would establish a public school curriculum examining gender issues including sexual discrimination.
One of the island’s largest Christian organizations, Puerto Rico Pro Family, said it would seek two constitutional amendments to limit marriage to heterosexual couples and to award parents the sole right to educate their children on gender matters.
"There are certain issues that are non-negotiable," said Dr. Cesar Vazquez Muniz, spokesman of Puerto Rico Pro Family. "The problem is that they are trying to change the values of this country."
Legislators currently are holding public hearings on the bills and are expected to debate them soon as the U.S. territory pushes for expanded gay rights amid heavy opposition from religious groups.
Sen. Maria Gonzalez Lopez, who filed both bills earlier this year, told The Associated Press that children should not be discriminated against and that prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting has economic, emotional and psychological consequences.
"It’s imperative that this legislative assembly recognize and not deny existing families their rights," the bill states. "People’s lifestyles are moving further away each time from the concept of a traditional family nucleus."
The bill was filed after the island’s Supreme Court in February voted 5-4 to uphold a local law banning adoptions by same-sex parents. The decision was unsuccessfully appealed by a Puerto Rican woman who has sought for nearly a decade to adopt a 12-year-old girl whom her partner of more than 20 years gave birth to through in vitro fertilization.
The judges had said it was up to legislators to change the adoption law if they saw fit.
The other bill that Gonzalez submitted calls on public schools to teach a curriculum that aims to promote gender equality and curb the island’s domestic violence problem.
While the island’s education secretary has said he supports the measure, he warned that the department needs more funds and additional resources to create such a curriculum. Other officials have asked that penalties be established for schools that don’t comply.
Opponents of the measure say only parents should teach their children about such matters.
"The state is interfering with that right," Vazquez said.
If the bills are approved, it would further establish Puerto Rico as a relatively gay-friendly island in a region where sodomy laws are enforced and harassment of gays is still common.
In late May, legislators approved a bill that outlaws employment discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. While most local government agencies already have anti-discriminatory policies, human rights activists say they are often not enforced.
Lawmakers earlier this year also approved a separate bill that extends a domestic violence law to gay couples.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)