January 9, 2019 at 10:00 pm EST | by Nicolás Levy
Marriage debate begins again in Chile Senate
The debate over an equal marriage bill began once again in the Chilean Senate on Jan. 9, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SANTIAGO, Chile — The Chilean Senate on Wednesday once again began to debate an equal marriage bill.

Former President Michelle Bachelet introduced the bill in September 2017, but the debate ended when current President Sebastián Piñera’s administration took office at La Moneda a few months later.

Equal marriage has not been a priority for Piñera or his Cabinet, even though Chile was sued on the issue before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Piñera administration, in fact, last October presented to the international body its interpretation of an agreement that Bachelet and the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh), the Chilean organization that filed the lawsuit in 2012, signed. The current government claimed  “the State through executive power could not have been forced to execute an action (through use of) another (legislative) power” and the agreement “never meant that the Executive, whoever the president was, should assume the commitment to promote the bill in Congress or obtain its approval.”

The statement was confirmed by Human Rights Undersecretary Lorena Recabarren, which generated negative reactions among opposition parties and the LGBT community.

In that scenario, it was the Congress itself that reopened debate on the issue.

Sen. Francisco Huenchumilla last week confirmed the Senate’s Constitution Committee — of which he is president — had scheduled a meeting on the equal marriage bill. The sexual diversity movement received this news with enthusiasm because three of the five members who sit on the committee are members of the opposition.

Movilh President Rolando Jiménez and Fundación Iguales Executive President Juan Enrique Pi attended the meeting that lasted only 10 minutes. Both of them criticized the Piñera administration’s representatives’ decision not to attend, even though they were invited.

“In a clear gesture of rejection of (the) equal marriage bill discussion, Minister Gonzalo Blumel (the general secretariat of the presidency) did not attend the session where the legislative procedure was restarted,” said Jiménez.  

“It seems the government not only wants this bill not to be approved, but also does not want it to be discussed,” added Pi. “The administration has to understand that we are talking about human rights (for the) LGBT community, and that it can not omit itself from this debate.”

Although this first meeting was brief because senators agreed to invite a law professor to address the issue on technical grounds, both activists were optimistic. “We hope it will be the starting point of a regular discussion,” said Pi. “The majority in Chile wants this bill to be a law and it is possible because we have the votes in both houses in Congress.”

Nicolás Levy is a Chilean journalist who specializes in LGBT human rights. He is a correspondent for the Washington Blade in Santiago, Chile.

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