Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

A Case for Gay Rights in Chile



Recent acts of violence alongside pending legislation and international pressure have brought to light the pressing need for lawmaking in support of LGBT rights in Chile. Together with protests for reforms in the education system, the public seems to be increasingly impatient about what the government is doing to protect LGBT rights. These demands are important beyond the scope of gay rights, because they have brought attention to the need for Chile to recognize, accept and protect the human rights of an evolving, heterogeneous culture as a fundamental prerequisite for continued prosperity.

The passage of an antidiscrimination law, which remained unresolved for over seven years, by a close 58-56 vote in the Chamber of Deputies this month was a basic necessity for the country. The Chilean Movement for Sexual Minorities (MOVILH) notes that in 2011 gay, lesbian and transgender Chileans were increasingly outspoken in reporting abuse and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this recently passed antidiscrimination law does not deal with hate crimes per se, but rather defines illegal discrimination. Furthermore, certain passages have yet to be finalized in a mixed commission of Senators and Deputies on May 2. The recent death of gay youth Daniel Zamudio points to precisely why legislating solely on discrimination does not suffice in this case, serving as an exceptionally violent example as to why hate crimes require specific punishment under the law. 

Zamudio received not only the public’s sympathy, but also worldwide attention including a briefing note from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesman, Rupert Colville, urging Chile to enact hate crime legislation. In this regard, the MOVILH also argues that Chilean society is not opposed to legislating on issues of gay rights and antidiscrimination in its entirety, but there is a lack of bravery and willingness within Congress to approach these pending issues. The recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ overturning of a Chilean court ruling against lesbian Judge Karen Atala, who lost custody of her children because of her same-sex relationship, is further international pressure for Chile to meet requirements stipulated by international agreements it has signed onto. 

Chile’s gay rights deficit is worrying as the country continues to be viewed as an example for continued economic growth despite global market volatility. President Sebastian Piñera’s administration is cautious about giving into all public demands, as Chile’s Minister of Finance Felipe Larraín recently said: “If we surrender to the temptation of appeasing demands by giving in to all of them, we will never get to our final goal [development].” However, most gay rights issues rely merely on political willingness rather than investment for social welfare. Furthermore, acting on gay rights is not the investment equivalent of reforming a public education system.

On the contrary, the lack of legislative initiative to protect gay Chileans is hindering the business community’s business opportunities. Private initiatives have been taken to reach out to gay customers, like for example the granting of access to mortgages and family insurance plans to Banco de Chile customers in same-sex relationships, proving how it is not only the public that is restless, but also the private sector that recognizes the positive effects of social inclusion in business. What could potentially prove threatening to Chile’s continued economic success might just be the lack of recognition given to the longstanding need for social inclusion of minorities in the country’s legal framework. In contrast, Chile’s neighbor Argentina has clearly reaped the benefits of gay tourism and investment since legislating on gay marriage, while Chile continues to turn a blind eye to opportunity.

This is not to say that Piñera’s administration has not taken basic steps to promote the rights of gay couples, like for example Piñera’s public presentation of a civil unions bill in August 2011. However, this legislative project was not only perceived as a political tool in the midst of cabinet discussions with student protest leaders, but is also minimal when considering the prominent use of gay couples in campaign ads for Sebastian Piñera during his presidential campaign. For this reason, the inclusion of a question in the 2012 census that allows gay couples to state whether they live with a same-sex partner may become an important, confidential and unbiased figure that current and future administrations could use to advocate for legislation on gay unions.  

This paradox persists despite the heightened quality of life of Chileans. Economic growth is creating an increasingly obvious deficit in basic human rights the country has yet to attain. In spite of continued development and well-regarded fiscal policy through the recession and into today’s administration, Chile continues to be in debt to not only its citizens and the country’s business community, but also to international human rights agreements on sexual orientation and gender identity. These international standards continue to be well above those demonstrated by the current state of gay rights legislation in Chile.

Eduardo Ayala is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Chilean-American and works at the Council of the Americas in New York. He graduated from The George Washington University, during which time he also completed coursework at The University of Chile and The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago.

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