January 28, 2015 at 11:29 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Chilean civil unions bill receives final approval

National Congress of Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

A bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Chile on Wednesday received final approval in the country’s Congress. (Photo by the Photographic Collection of the Library of the National Congress of Chile; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Chile on Wednesday received final approval in the South American country’s Congress.

The Chilean Senate approved the measure by a 25-6 vote margin with three abstentions. The bill passed in the country’s House of Representatives by a 78-9 vote margin.

“A historic step against discrimination and for the advancement of human rights has taken place today with the passage of the civil unions bill,” said the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, in a statement.

President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the bill — under which unmarried heterosexual couples would also receive legal recognition — into law.

Bachelet’s spokesperson, Álvaro Elizalde, on his Twitter page described Tuesday as a “historic day” in Chile.

“We are laying the foundation of a Chile for everyone, a country that does not discriminate,” he wrote.

Javier Soto, a pastor from the resort city of Viña del Mar, is among the most outspoken critics of the civil unions bill.

A video posted to his Twitter page shows him standing in front of the presidential palace in Santiago, the Chilean capital, last February announcing a “prophecy for Chile.” Soto less than two months later said God sparked a massive forest fire in the coastal city of Valparaíso because lawmakers agreed to consider the civil unions bill.

Advocates push for same-sex marriage in Chile

Tuesday’s vote is the culmination of efforts in support of extending civil unions to same-sex couples in the South American country that began in 2003.

Congressman Gabriel Silber Romo of the Christian Democratic Party and the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation last month introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in Chile. The LGBT advocacy group in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on behalf of three Chilean gay couples who were denied marriage licenses.

Bachelet publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Representatives of her administration in November met with members of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in Santiago to discuss the Inter-American Court of Human Rights lawsuit.

Hunter T. Carter, a New York-based lawyer who represents the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in the same-sex marriage case, told the Washington Blade earlier this month he would welcome the passage of the civil unions bill. He nevertheless stressed the measure would not guarantee the equal treatment of gay and lesbian couples under Chilean law.

“We will continue to fight tirelessly until Chilean same-sex couples are able to enjoy full civil marriage equality under the law,” Carter told the Blade.

Jaime Parada Hoyl, a gay councilman in the wealthy Santiago enclave of Providencia, on Tuesday described the passage of the civil unions bill as “an important step towards equality in Chile.”

“It will improve the quality of life of same-sex couples who have not been able to get married,” Parada told the Blade.

Parada, like Carter, urged Chilean lawmakers to extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“I hope that this is not the end, but the beginning,” Parada told the Blade, referring to the civil unions bill. “We need to begin talking about same-sex marriage now.”

Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte, a transgender rights advocate who continues to lobby lawmakers to approve a bill that would allow trans Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex-reassignment surgery, on Tuesday echoed Parada as he discussed the passage of the civil unions bill.

“It is an advance, without legislating marriage equality,” Rivera told the Blade.

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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