La Tercera, a Chilean newspaper, reported the measure passed by an 86-23 vote margin with two abstentions.
“People of the same-sex will have the opportunity to demonstrate that they have the right to be happy,” said gay Congressman Claudio Arriagada Macaya after the vote, according to La Tercera.
Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, also praised the vote.
“We dedicate this day, this moment, to the gay and lesbian families that have suffered a historic burden of misunderstanding and prejudices,” he said in a statement. “Today it will be the state’s turn to strengthen them and protect them on equal terms.”
Javier Soto, a pastor from the resort city of Viña del Mar, is among the most outspoken critics of the civil unions bill.
He said God sparked a massive forest fire in the coastal city of Valparaíso last April because lawmakers were considering the measure. The Chilean government on Tuesday announced it will file a formal complaint against Soto after he allegedly threatened Arriagada.
Former President Sebastián Piñera first introduced the civil unions bill in 2011.
The Chilean Senate last October advanced the measure — which had been known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into life partner agreement in English.
The Chilean House of Representatives on Tuesday approved an amended version of the bill — the Civil Union Pact or PUC in Spanish. The Chilean Senate is expected to approve the measure before the end of the month.
President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the civil unions bill into law.
Chilean advocates seek marriage rights for same-sex couples
The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation and Congressman Gabriel Silber Romo last month introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the South American country.
The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on behalf of three Chilean gay couples seeking marriage rights.
Piñera’s government argued against what it described as the “new definition of marriage” in a brief it filed against the lawsuit in November 2013.
Bachelet publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. And representatives of her government last November met with members of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in Santiago, the Chilean capital, to discuss the Inter-American Court of Human Rights case.
The outcome of the meeting has not been made public.
Hunter T. Carter, a New York-based lawyer who represents the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, welcomed the passage of the civil unions bill in the Chilean House of Representatives. He nevertheless said the measure still does not guarantee that same-sex couples in the South American country will receive equal treatment under the law.
“I regret that Chile is illogically repeating a bad history with a concept that is distinct — and inferior — from marriage that in all other experiences has been considered inferior, confusing and a perpetuation of discrimination based on false stereotypes and dogmatic myths,” Carter told the Washington Blade. “We will continue to fight tirelessly until Chilean same-sex couples are able to enjoy full civil marriage equality under the law.”
Jaime Parada Hoyl, a gay councilman in the wealthy Santiago enclave of Providencia, echoed Carter.
“It is good news for the equality of rights in Chile, but it is not the best,” Parada told the Blade late on Tuesday as he discussed the outcome of the civil unions bill. “Chile today should be discussing marriage equality with good legislative work, and above all with political will. The votes are there, or at the very least they are missing very few. My worry is that this (civil unions) bill, positive in its essence, will further delay full legal equality.”