August 5, 2014 at 11:50 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Chilean Senate committee approves civil unions bill

National Congress of Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

A Chilean Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a civil unions bill. (Photo by the Photographic Collection of the Library of the National Congress of Chile; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A Chilean Senate committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to advance a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

The vote sets the stage for a potential vote on the measure in the full Senate.

“Today we have taken a step forward in this fight for civil unions that we began a decade ago,” said the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, in a statement. “The step that was once a dream is becoming real.”

Luis Larraín, president of Fundación Iguales, another Chilean LGBT advocacy group, also applauded the vote.

“We are one step closer to the state of Chile recognizing that there are distinct types of family and that all of them deserve protection,” he said.

Former President Sebastián Piñera first introduced the civil unions bill in the Chilean Congress in 2011.

Senators in January voted 28-6 to move the proposal out of committee.

President Michelle Bachelet, who took office in March, publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South American country during last year’s presidential campaign.

Chile’s highest court in 2011 ruled the country’s ban on nuptials for gays and lesbians is constitutional in a case the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation filed on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights.

The Piñera administration argued in a brief it filed with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights last November in response to the same-sex marriage lawsuit that the plaintiffs have “not exhausted domestic remedies to obtain the nullification of the administrative act for [the] alleged violation of fundamental rights.” Lawyers representing the three couples have repeatedly urged Bachelet to reject her predecessor’s position in the case.

Anti-LGBT violence casts shadow over advances

LGBT rights advocates have seen a number of legal and political advances in the conservative South American country in recent years.

Piñera in 2012 signed an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that had languished in the Chilean Congress for seven years. It is 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 country’s capital, earlier that year.

The country’s Senate in January advanced a bill that would allow trans Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex reassignment surgery.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a lesbian judge who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband seven years earlier because of her sexual orientation.

Claudio Arriagada last November became the first openly gay person elected to the Chilean Congress.

Jaime Parada Hoyl, a former spokesperson for the Movement of Homosexual Integration and Liberation, in 2012 won a seat on the municipal council in Providencia, a wealthy Santiago enclave.

Voters in the Santiago suburb of Lampa re-elected transgender Councilwoman Alejandra González during the same municipal elections. Trans activist Zuliana Araya also won a seat on the Municipal Council in the coastal city of Valparaíso.

Anti-LGBT violence remains a serious concern in spite of these political and legal advances.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation said in a press release on Tuesday that Zaconi Orellana Acevedo, a 22-year-old trans woman, was killed earlier this week in a town outside of Santiago.

“We cannot forget that the female transsexual population is particularly vulnerable, because from an early age all doors are closed for them and a great many of them are forced to engage in commercial sex work to survive,” said the advocacy group. “The lack of a gender identity law that would allow trans people to change their name with a simple process in the Civil Registry and not in the judiciary as occurs right now, would bring more development possibilities to this social group.”

A rash of other anti-LGBT attacks over the past year have sparked outrage among Chilean advocates. These include the death of Esteban Parada Armijo in January after two men stabbed him in Santiago’s Bellavista neighborhood where several gay bars and clubs are located.

Guillermo Aguilera Guerrero allegedly stabbed Alejandro Alfredo Bustamante Godoy to death inside his Valparaíso home a few weeks before Parada’s murder.

Bachelet has said she supports efforts to strengthen Chile’s hate crimes and anti-discrimination law.

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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