April 29, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Former Chile president rejected ‘new definition of marriage’
National Congress of Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

The Chilean Senate in January voted to allow debate on a civil unions bill. (Photo by the Photographic Collection of the Library of the National Congress of Chile; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera argued against the “new definition of marriage” in a brief filed with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that became public earlier this week.

His administration made the argument in a 47-page brief it filed with the court last November in response to a lawsuit the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, filed on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in the South American country.

The nation’s previous government argued that lawmakers in only three of the 36 countries in the Americas — Argentina, Uruguay and Canada — have “redefined marriage” nationwide.

The Brazilian National Council of Justice last May ruled registrars in South America’s most populous country cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The erroneous interpretation the plaintiffs make based on the number of the population — that 76 percent of the continent will have to recognize, in some form, marriage between people of the same sex — is unacceptable,” reads the brief. “It goes against the basic principle… that guarantees the equal sovereignty of the states, independent of their size or population.”

Chile’s highest court in 2011 ruled the country’s ban on gay nuptials is not unconstitutional.

The Piñera administration argued to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the couples who are seeking marriage rights in Chile have not fully exhausted their options within the country’s legal system.

“They have not exhausted domestic remedies to obtain the nullification of the administrative act for [the] alleged violation of fundamental rights,” reads the brief.

Piñera’s government also argued any measure that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples would not affect transgender Chileans.

“Members of the ‘trans’ community will not be affected by this legislation — as the alleged victims have pointed out with respect to them,” reads the brief. “There would be no impediment to enter into marriage as it stands today.”

The Piñera administration submitted its brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights more than two years after the then-president introduced a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions. The measure had stalled in the Chilean Congress until the country’s Senate in January voted to move the proposal out of committee.

President Michelle Bachelet, who succeeded Piñera last month, publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples during her presidential campaign.

Bachelet’s spokesperson did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Ciro Colombara and Hunter T. Carter, who are representing the three couples who filed the same-sex marriage lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, urged Bachelet to “reject” the previous administration’s position against gay nuptials.

“Every day our clients and thousands more like them suffer discrimination for not being legally married and not enjoying the protections afforded by law to married couples,” they said. “For that reason we will persevere in asking that the Inter-American Court to sanction Chile and require modification of its laws to open civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

Alberto Roa, a spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, told the Blade on Tuesday that Piñera “expressed his known position against marriage equality” to the court.

The activist acknowledged the Chilean LGBT rights movement made progress during the Piñera presidency — including a law that added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the country’s hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws. It was named in honor of Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year-old man whom a group of self-described neo-Nazis beat to death inside a park in Santiago, the Chilean capital, in 2012 because he was gay.

“Under the Piñera government, a lot of progress was made on the rights of sexual diversity,” Roa told the Blade. “The position of the previous administration against marriage equality reflects a limited understanding of equality.”

Sebastián Piñera, Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

President Sebastián Piñera (Photo public domain)

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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