September 23, 2016 at 12:36 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Chilean president’s marriage pledge greeted with cautious optimism

United Nations LGBT Core Group, gay news, Washington Blade

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks at a United Nations LGBT Core Group event in New York on Sept. 21, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Chilean activists have greeted President Michelle Bachelet’s announcement this week that she will introduce a same-sex marriage bill in the country’s Congress with cautious optimism.

“The president has a real commitment to leave a mark in a more dignified and equal Chile,” said Andrés Rivera, a transgender activist who lives in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

Rivera also noted Bachelet, who took office in 2014, supports a bill that would allow trans Chileans to legally change their name and gender without surgery or a court order.

The Chilean Senate’s Human Rights Commission approved the measure last month. It formally dispatched the bill on Sept. 12.

“Marriage equality and legal recognition of gender identity were not just campaign promises,” Rivera told the Washington Blade.

‘Fighting for LGBT rights is fighting for human rights’

Bachelet on Wednesday announced at an event the U.N. LGBT Core Group held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that she would introduce a same-sex marriage bill in the Chilean Congress during the first half of 2017.

“Fighting for LGBT rights is fighting for human rights,” said Bachelet.

Chile’s civil unions law that Bachelet signed took effect last October.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a lesbian judge who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband because of her sexual orientation. The Chilean government later apologized to Atala, paid her $70,000 and offered medical and psychological care to her.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in the South American country.

Chile formally ended its opposition to same-sex marriage in 2015.

Bachelet’s government in June said it would introduce a bill that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. This pledge was part of an agreement it reached with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in its lawsuit before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“President Bachelet’s U.N. speech stating her commitment to submit and back marriage equality legislation early next year is important and historic,” Hunter T. Carter, a New York-based lawyer who represents the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in their lawsuit, told the Blade on Thursday.

Conservative Chilean lawmakers were quick to criticize Bachelet over her announcement.

“What lies behind these criticisms is a hateful rejection of legal equality,” said the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation on Thursday in a press release.

The group told the Blade in an email that polls indicate a majority of Chileans now support marriage rights for same-sex couples. The issue nevertheless continues to face strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Luis Larraín, president of Fundación Iguales, a Chilean advocacy group, told the Blade on Thursday that Bachelet’s announcement at the U.N. is “a very good sign” marriage rights for same-sex couples will advance in Congress.

“The thing that concerns us the most is whether she will make it a priority after introducing it,” added Larraín.

Carter shared Larraín’s concern.

“I am pleased to see her public international commitment to equality and fairness,” Carter told the Blade. “But I am concerned about whether she will follow through personally and substantially to make sure the legislation passes.”

“I look forward to working closely with our clients and the LGBT community and the government to make sure it does pass,” he added.

Chile, Roxana Ortíz, Virginia Gómez, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Gómez, left, and Roxana Ortíz speak with reporters in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 22, 2005 after they entered into a civil union. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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

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