Law would overturn decades-old legislation prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from having a legal contract
A conservative majority in Chile’s Congress on Sunday voted to allow same-sex couples to marry, reversing a decades-old legislation prohibiting same-sex couples from having a legal contract.
Supporters of the bill say they were inspired by the United States, where gay marriage became legal two years ago, and some 37 other countries, including Portugal and Uruguay.
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“Today we’re not going to celebrate,” said Patricio Navia, a lawyer who helped write the legislation. “We’re going to celebrate the fact that we’re sending a strong message about life and the values and liberties that we defend.”
The bill’s passage represents a stark reversal for Chile, where conservative political parties and Catholic church leaders have dominated since Chile returned to democracy in 1990.
The legislation, which cleared the lower house of Congress in April, had stirred fierce debate and was stalled until Sunday, when it passed unanimously in the Senate.
Marriage equality will most likely go to the upper house for approval, where the current president of the Senate, Mariano Navarro, is opposed to it. The lower house and upper house must still agree on a single article.
The law will legalize civil unions for same-sex couples and require religious, educational and medical institutions to treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples.
Some Catholics opposed to the change said the decision would divide Chile.
Activists say the law would help mothers and fathers share responsibility for their children. Hundreds of civil unions have already been registered under current law.
Colectivo ‘Marilyn’ displays support for the civil union bill in Santiago, Chile, 15 July 2017. Photograph: Iwan Baan/Reuters
Key Democrats in the Senate decried the timing of the vote, arguing that President Sebastian Pinera was risking his chances of winning re-election in December by capitalizing on the issue.
Pinera, a former president and a former lieutenant governor in the conservative armed forces, said last month he would ask voters if they support civil unions before making his decision.
“I make the call in relation to my conviction,” Pinera said on Sunday, though he said he would respect the outcome of a referendum. “It will be the will of the people.”
It was unclear on Sunday if Pinera would wait to implement the bill or try to pass a different law.
Pinera has promised to make Chile more business-friendly, striking a chord with exporters. He has taken aim at Chile’s high income inequality, which he said could be improved by passing a new tax bill.
Rallies against the civil union law have roiled Chile in recent weeks, sometimes resulting in violence and arrests.