Chile legalizes same-sex marriage at difficult political time

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage on Tuesday, a landmark victory for gay rights activists that underscores...


SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage on Tuesday, a landmark victory for gay rights activists that underscores how much the country’s politics and society have changed over the past decade.

By an overwhelming majority in both houses, lawmakers put same-sex couples’ unions on an equal footing with others, making Chile the 31st nation to authorize same-sex marriage and to take an important step towards consolidating it as a norm in Latin America.

The vote comes as Chile, long regarded as a stable and conservative country in the region, grapples with an urgent demand for radical social change from various sectors of society. Millions of Chileans took to the streets in 2019 in protests that resulted in a vote to repeal the Constitution, a document inherited from General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, and rewrite the laws that frame the nation.

The timing of the accounts showed how disconnected the political class had been on a wide range of issues, including gay rights, said Rolando Jiménez, one of the leaders of Movilh, a leading human rights organization. homosexuals in Chile.

“The political class had been deaf, blind and silent on a series of subjects on which civil society and ordinary Chileans had advanced,” he said.

President Sebastián Piñera, a longtime opponent of same-sex marriage, shocked the political establishment in June by speaking out in favor of such unions. He urged Congress to prioritize passing a bill that had been dragging on for years, ensuring that the legislation will be one of the last accomplishments of a turbulent presidency.

The measure will be enacted in the home stretch of Chile’s polarized presidential race. The vote is on December 19, and the main candidates – Gabriel Boric, a former leftist student activist, and José Antonio Kast, a former far-right congressman – disagree bitterly on a wide range of issues, including same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday afternoon, in a meeting with evangelical leaders, Mr. Kast said he did not agree with the new law.

“We respect democracy, but that doesn’t mean we change our beliefs,” he said. “For us, marriage is between a man and a woman.”

While the gay marriage movement has grown slowly across much of the world in recent years, the vast majority of Latin Americans now live in countries where such unions are legal. In some large countries, including Brazil and Mexico, the right has been conferred by the courts.

The fight to extend the right to marriage to same-sex couples in Chile began in September 2010, when Cesar Peralta and Hans Arias, a couple who was raising two children, walked into a government office in Santiago and asked to be married. , knowing full well their request would be refused.

The request was rejected, as planned, and the couple left the building to address reporters who had been summoned outside by Movilh, the gay rights organization.

It was the first salvo in a legal battle that has unfolded for more than a decade before judges at home and abroad.

Mr. Peralta followed the vote and cried when he heard the result.

“I am so moved and so happy that our country, our people, our community, now have a little more dignity,” he said. “I’m so happy to have been a part of it all.”

Gay activists in Chile were well aware of the risks they faced when they started the legalization process.

Gay rights activists in Latin America were encouraged by Argentina, which has become the first nation of the region legalize same-sex marriage with a congressional vote in July 2010.

At the time, neighboring Chile, more politically conservative, was far from ready to follow suit. A law banning sodomy was not repealed until 1999. Divorce became legal in 2004.

In 2010, some Chilean lawmakers proposed a civil union law for unmarried couples, but few prominent politicians were publicly in favor of expanding the definition of marriage or granting it to same-sex couples. the right to adopt children.

Realizing that he had little legislative backing, Movilh took the case to the appeals court in late 2010, and eventually to the Supreme Court, which in April 2012 ruled against the plaintiffs.

The ruling paved the way for Movilh to sue Chile in 2012 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a judicial body that examines legal disputes emanating from member states.

While the case was still in dispute, Chile adopted a law on civil unions in 2015, but gay rights groups argued that same-sex couples were still denied crucial rights, including the ability to adopt.

After years of negotiations with the commission, in June 2016, the Chilean government agreed to launch a process to legalize same-sex marriage.

In 2017, then-president Michelle Bachelet – a center-left politician who had previously argued that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman – introduced a bill on same-sex marriage.

“Old prejudices cannot be stronger than love” she said.

The limited momentum of the bill had fizzled out when Mr Piñera, a conservative, took office.

But in October 2019, halfway through his term, Chile was shaken by months of major protests against inequalities, cost of living and social rights. And Mr Piñera, to the surprise of critics and supporters, has changed his mind.

In a speech in early June, he said he now supports same-sex marriage. “Today I think we need to reflect on the value of freedom, including the freedom to love and have a family with a loved one,” he said.

Mr Piñera gave the bill priority status, which paved the way for Tuesday’s vote.

In addition to Argentina, same-sex marriage is legal in Latin America in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and in 24 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Chile’s new law will allow same-sex parents to have parental rights over the biological or adopted children of a spouse and will create standard rules on inheritance and other financial matters.

Mr Peralta and Mr Arias went their separate ways in 2014. But Mr Peralta said that didn’t make Tuesday’s win any less important to him. While in the public limelight, the couple were ridiculed and criticized, especially by Chileans who said they should not be allowed to raise Mr Peralta’s two biological children.

“I am proud of what I have done,” he said.

Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago, and Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Chile legalizes same-sex marriage at difficult political time
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