October 7, 2014 at 11:46 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Chilean Senate advances civil unions bill

National Congress of Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

The Chilean Senate on Tuesday advanced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. (Photo by the Photographic Collection of the Library of the National Congress of Chile; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Chilean Senate on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would allow same-sex couples in the South American country to enter into civil unions.

The vote took place several hours after lawmakers began to debate it.

Senators rejected four proposed amendments that, among other things, sought to exclude unmarried heterosexual couples from the proposal. It also contains an amendment on child custody.

Opponents of the measure — known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into life partner agreement in English — successfully blocked two previous votes that were expected to take place last week.

“The AVP does not weaken families, but it strengthens them because it extends protections to them,” said Álvaro Elizalde, spokesperson for President Michelle Bachelet’s government.

Sen. Manuel José Ossandón Irarrázabal, who represents portions of Santiago, the Chilean capital, is among those who spoke against the proposal.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Ossandón as opponents of the bill who had gathered inside the Senate chamber applauded. “I recognize that homosexuals have rights…I recognize that is not the AVP.”

The Movement for Homosexual Liberation and Integration, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, applauded lawmakers for advancing the measure.

“Family diversity and the rights of children triumphed today,” said the group in a press release.

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

A Chilean Senate committee in August voted unanimously to advance the measure to the full chamber.

The bill will now go before the Chilean House of Deputies where a vote could potentially take place in the coming weeks. Bachelet is expected to sign the measure into law if it receives final approval.

“We are advancing towards a more respectful and inclusive Chile,” said Andrés Ignacio Duarte Rivera, a Chilean LGBT rights advocate, on Tuesday.

Chilean LGBT rights movement marks advances, setbacks

Bachelet, who took office in March, publicly supports marriage rights for same-sex couples and a proposal that would allow transgender Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex reassignment surgery.

Chile last month co-sponsored a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted.

Jaime Parada Hoyl, a former spokesperson for the Movement of Homosexual Integration and Liberation who is a member of the Providencia Municipal Council in Santiago, and trans activist Zuliana Araya, a member of the Valparaíso Municipal Council, are among the growing number of openly LGBT elected officials in the conservative country.

In spite of these advances, anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain serious concerns among Chilean advocates.

Zaconi Orellana Acevedo, a 22-year-old trans woman, was killed in a town outside of Santiago in August.

Advocates have also urged Chilean lawmakers to strengthen an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination law that Piñera signed in 2012. The statute 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 earlier that year because he was gay.

Bachelet supports efforts to strengthen the Zamudio law, but some advocates have expressed frustration that she has not done enough to advance marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues in the country.

The Movement for Homosexual Liberation and Integration in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on behalf of three Chilean same-sex couples seeking marriage rights.

Piñera’s government argued against the “new definition of marriage” in a brief it filed in the lawsuit last year. Advocates continue to pressure Bachelet to formally reject her predecessor’s position in the case.

Hunter T. Carter, a New York-based lawyer who represents the Movement for Homosexual Liberation and Integration in the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, told the Blade on Tuesday the advancement of the civil unions bill is “a small step forward toward fuller equality” in Chile.

“We will not rest however until there is full marriage equality, because AVP does not convey all the same status, rights and benefits as marriage — which is only available to opposite sex couples,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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