Chilean Senate Debates Gay Marriage Amid Polarized Election


Known for being a country with a more conservative profile in terms of civil rights, Chile may join this Monday (6) the group of nations that allow equal marriage. The bill that deals with the issue is scheduled to be discussed and voted on in the Senate.

On the 23rd, activists intensely celebrated in front of Congress the approval of the text in the Chamber of Deputies — where it received 101 votes in favour, 30 against and 2 abstentions. The Senate session begins at 10 am, with a debate on the text in a committee; there is no forecast of voting time in the plenary.

The country, which was one of the last in the world to approve a divorce, in 2004, so far only recognizes same-sex unions through the Civil Union Agreement. The mechanism, however, is considered limited with respect to inheritance and pension issues and does not provide for the right of couples to have children.

If the law is actually passed, Chile will become the eighth nation in Latin America in which equal marriage is recognized and guaranteed by the courts, after Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico (in some states), Uruguay and Brazil — where same-sex civil union was declared legal by the Federal Supreme Court in 2011 and allowed by a resolution of the National Council of Justice two years later.

The text under discussion in Chile, when it enters into force, will also allow for the adoption of children by homosexual couples. However, articles that allowed the adoption to be carried out by unions of more than two people and that legalized so-called surrogates were dropped from the original project.

The debate in the Senate takes place two weeks before the second round of the presidential elections, scheduled for December 19th. The leftist Gabriel Boric and the ultra-rightist José Antonio Kast are contesting for the Presidency of Chile. According to the latest Cadem poll, released this weekend, Boric leads the voters’ preferences, with 40% of voting intentions against Kast’s 35%. There are, however, according to the survey, 25% of undecided.

The leftist is in favor of the change in legislation and voted for its approval in Parliament (he is a deputy). In the last debate before the first round, he asserted that the rival’s anti-civil rights position was discriminatory.

The Pinochetist opponent, who more than once cited the existence of an alleged “gay lobby” in the media that would seek to “influence people”, is against the new legislation. In his government program, Kast says that, in office, he will prevent “indoctrinating children by force” and defend “the right that every child has to have a father and a mother”.

In the electoral campaign, he had been saying that, if elected, he would eliminate the Ministry of Women and send a bill to Congress so that abortion would be completely prohibited again — today Chile allows the practice in cases of rape, unfeasibility of the fetus and risk of death for the mother. After the first round, however, the candidate moderated his program under pressure from the traditional right.

Center-right Sebastián Sichel, candidate of current president Sebastián Piñera, who came fourth, said he would only offer support to Kast if he made a commitment “not to try to revoke or backtrack” on advances linked to civil rights, such as cases of legal abortion and civil union. The Pinochetista accepted the demands and announced that he will not eliminate the folder aimed at women.

The debates in the Chamber, at the end of last month, showed a sample of the polarization surrounding the issue. Right-wing deputy Ximena Ossandón, who voted against the proposal, said: “A relationship between two men is not the same thing as a heterosexual relationship, even if the law allows it. Nature itself poses barriers.” Diego Ibáñez, from the Frente Amplio, celebrated the approval of the text. “In the face of speeches of violence and hate, it is necessary to respond with love,” he said.

In July, the Chilean Senate had already debated and approved the text, with 28 votes in favor (out of a total of 43 parliamentarians) and applause at the end of the session. As the deputies made changes to the text, however, it had to be analyzed again.

The bill had originally been introduced in 2017 by then center-left president Michelle Bachelet. He, however, remained stuck in Congress until, in June of this year, Piñera announced that he would support the initiative — his term will end in March 2022.

Both the former president and the current one had placed obstacles in the way of passing the law in the past.

Bachelet, in her first term (2006-2010) was opposed to pushing for the legalization of gay marriage because of the Christian Democratic Party’s participation in the Concertación alliance, which she represented. Piñera, in both his administrations, has also stated that he is against the change, although he has softened his position over time.

The political mood shift in favor of egalitarian civil union began to intensify in March 2012, when Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year-old, was beaten, burned with cigarettes, branded with swastikas and murdered in a park in Santiago. The four young men who murdered him were arrested, one of them being sentenced to life in prison and the others to 15 years in prison.

​According to a survey carried out by the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, 82% of Chilean gay couples intend to marry, if the law is approved. The same survey shows that 91% consider that the country is behind on this issue.


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