Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Chilean Congress Begins Debate on Legally Recognizing Same-Sex Couples



Chile’s congress took a first step toward legislating rights for same-sex couples on April 10.  If passed, President Sebastián Piñera’s Acuerdo de Vida Común (Life Partner Agreement—AVP) would allow same-sex couples to register their partnerships with notaries, granting them many of the same legal rights as married couples, such as shared health benefits, pensions and inheritances. The legislation stops short of permitting gay marriage, explicitly reserving that for heterosexual couples.  Currently, Chile does not legally recognize gay couples.

President Sebastián Piñera sent the bill to Congress in August 2012, but it sat latent until Wednesday, when the Senate’s Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Committee approved the initiation of debate.  

Chile, one of the more socially conservative countries in the region, has traditionally been among the last Latin American countries to adopt progressive social legislation.  Only in 2004 did it legally permit divorce, and it still prohibits all abortions. Chile has been similarly slow to debate and enact gay rights laws, compared to its neighbors. Only in 1999 did Chile decriminalize gay sex, compared to Argentina and Brazil, which have allowed it since the nineteenth century.  

Yet, in the past year, Chile’s gay rights movement has surged ahead. When the 2012 census gave Chileans the opportunity to declare living in a same-sex relationship for the first time, nearly 35,000 Chileans, or 0.5 percent of the population, did so—higher than in Uruguay and Argentina, both of which recently legalized gay marriage. 

In early 2012, the government changed the rules on blood donation to prevent potential donors from being turned away for being gay and, in March 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ordered the state to pay compensation to a lesbian mother who had been denied custody of her daughters by Chile’s supreme court because she lived with a woman. The IACHR went further, instructing the Chilean government to educate its judiciary about gender issues.  In May, Congress passed anti-discrimination legislation—often referred to as the Zamudio law, after Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man whose violent killing because of his sexual orientation propelled the law’s passage.  

These consecutive milestones instigated the largest gay rights march in Chile’s history in June and put pressure on Congress this week to move toward legally recognizing gay couples.

 

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