The 28-6 vote to move the proposal out of committee took place more than six hours after lawmakers began to debate it.
“We have been given an opportunity to go one step further towards no discrimination,” said Sen. María Isabel Allende. “It is important to take steps that allow partners to gain access to rights they are now denied.”
Sen. Fulvio Rossi, who in 2010 introduced a bill that sought to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the South American country, also testified in support of the measure.
“[The bill] is of great importance because it recognizes that there is another way to build families that goes beyond marriage,” he said.
Opponents of the civil unions measure held signs inside the Senate chamber that said “Return to Christ.”
Oscar Rementería, spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, said on Twitter that police had to remove a “belligerent” Evangelical pastor and his supporters from the Senate chamber. Lawmakers who voted against the measure and other opponents also reacted angrily after the vote.
“Conservatism is afraid of change,” said Sen. Alejandro Navarro as he spoke in support of the measure. “I have news for you: The changes have already occurred.”
Movilh praised the vote.
“All partners who live together are going to benefit, especially the poorest families that lack any judicial and social protections,” the group said in a statement. “These families that every day seek help from our organization can now see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Movilh in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses.
The tribunal last July gave the Chilean government a two month deadline to respond to the case. Two members of Piñera’s cabinet told Movilh during an October meeting the government has already begun the “process of internal consultations” to respond to the lawsuit.
President-elect Michelle Bachelet, who regained the Chilean presidency last month after defeating Evelyn Matthei, supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. Bachelet also backs a proposal that would allow transgender Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex-reassignment surgery, hormonal treatments and psychiatric or psychological evaluations.
Bachelet’s platform also supports efforts to strengthen Chile’s LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination law 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, in 2012 because he was gay. The convicted mastermind of the attack in October received a life sentence for the crime.
Andrés Ignacio Duarte Rivera, founder of the Organization of Transsexuals for the Dignity of Diversity, told the Washington Blade he expects senators will consider whether to advance the trans rights measure later on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Senate is expected to consider proposed amendments to the civil unions bill in the coming weeks.