Vicente Medel Salazar and Esteban Guzmán Rioseco, a spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, became the first couple to enter into a civil union in the South American country with their ceremony that took place in the city of Concepción. Roxana Ortíz and Virginia Gómez less than an hour later entered into their civil union at the Chilean Civil Registry and Identification Service office in Santiago, the country’s capital.
Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation Director Rolando Jiménez is among those who attended the women’s ceremony.
“This is going to be something historic, not only for us but for the country in general,” Ortíz told reporters outside the Civil Registry and Identification Service office before she and Gómez entered.
Ortíz and Gómez, who is originally from Spain, have been together for 14 years and have a daughter. The couple legally married in Gómez’s homeland in 2009.
“It’s much better than when we married in Spain,” said Ortíz.
Dozens of LGBT rights advocates on Thursday gathered outside the Civil Registry and Identification Service office in Santiago to celebrate the civil unions law.
“It is tremendously exciting,” Fundación Iguales President Luis Larraín told the Washington Blade during an interview. “The state of Chile is recognizing same-sex couples as families.”
Unmarried heterosexual couples included in statute
President Michelle Bachelet in April signed the civil unions law.
Gays and lesbians under the statute are now able to make health care decisions on behalf of their same-sex partner and receive pension and survivor benefits. The law also allows gays and lesbians to seek punitive damages if their partner is the victim of a crime.
The Chilean government now recognizes the marriages of gays and lesbians that were legally performed outside the country.
Unmarried same-sex couples can also take advantage of the civil unions law.
U.S. Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer on his Twitter page described Thursday as a “historic day.”
— Mike Hammer (@MikeHammerUSA) October 22, 2015
A three-week strike of Civil Registry and Identification Service employees over their pay threatened to derail the law from taking effect, but they agreed to officiate civil unions and marriages through Sunday. It remains unclear whether the officials will allow them to take place after the three-day period ends.
Bachelet publicly supports same-sex marriage
Chile is a conservative, predominantly Roman Catholic country that stretches more than 2,500 miles along the western coast of South America.
Bachelet during her 2013 campaign publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples. The left leaning Socialist who was Chile’s president from 2006-2010 also supports a measure that would allow transgender Chileans to legally change their name and gender without sex-reassignment surgery.
The U.N. Human Rights Council in September 2014 ratified a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that Chile introduced alongside Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.
The U.N. Security Council in August held its first-ever meeting on an LGBT-specific issue that focused on the Islamic State’s ongoing persecution of LGBT Syrians and Iraqis. Chile co-sponsored the closed-door, informal briefing with the U.S.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a lesbian Chilean judge who lost custody of her three children to her ex-husband because of her sexual orientation. The Chilean government subsequently apologized to Atala, paid her $70,000 and offered her medical and psychological care.
The Movement for Homosexual Liberation and Integration in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three Chilean gay couples seeking marriage rights. The Bachelet government earlier this year announced it would formally end its opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians in the case.
Ortíz on Thursday told reporters she hopes the civil unions law will spur Chilean lawmakers to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
“This is the first step,” she said. “We are going to continue the fight for marriage equality.”