Chiles congress recognizes same-sex marriage, joining regional shift toward gay rights


Chiles congress on Tuesday voted to legalize same-sex marriage, joining the growing wave of Latin American countries recognizing the right in a historically Catholic region.

Both chambers of the congress voted by wide margins to approve the legislation, a victory for gay rights activists who had spent more than a decade working to transform the country's laws. President Sebastián Piñera has said he will sign it.

"We have been working for years for a profound cultural change," said Rolando Jiménez, a spokesman for the advocacy group Movilh. "I celebrate marriage equality as a fundamental milestone in our history,"

The move comes less than two weeks before Chileans vote in the country's most polarized presidential election in decades, with a conservative populist running against a leftist former student activist, amid an ongoing effort to redraft the country's constitution.

The legislation, which had stalled for four years, received a surprise endorsement in June from Piñera, a center-right politician who previously opposed recognizing same-sex marriage. Angering conservative allies, the president vowed to give "urgency" to the legislation.

"The time has come for marriage equality in our country," he said at the time. "Today, I think we need to reflect on the value of freedom, including the freedom to love and build a family with a loved one."

Chile legalized same-sex civil unions in 2015. But it did not recognize adoption rights for gay partners, despite a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that required it to uphold the parental rights of same-sex couples.

In 2017, then-President Michelle Bachelet proposed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and recognize the rights of same-sex parents. Lawmakers on Tuesday passed an amended version of that bill. Erika Montecinos, founder and coordinator of the Chilean group Lesbian Association Breaking the Silence, called it a "historic step" for same-sex families and their children.

"Years ago we saw that same-sex couples, especially women, have opted for motherhood," Montecinos said. "The woman who gave birth was recognized, but not her partner. . . .

"Now they will be able to request that their sons and daughters be recognized without even having to sign a marriage registry."

Leonidas Romero, a conservative lawmaker who voted against the bill, called it a "very sad day for our country and for the Christian world."

"The concept of marriage is clearly established for a man and a woman," he told The Washington Post. "Children need a father and a mother, not two adults of the same sex who want to have children and who will never naturally succeed."

But he added: "I doubt we can do anything. Unfortunately, this is here to stay."

Chile is part of a growing group of Latin American countries advancing gay rights. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay have legalized same-sex marriage, and Mexico's Supreme Court has declared bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

As Chileans rewrite their constitution, Jiménez said, leaders should enshrine protections "not only for sexual discrimination but for all types of discrimination."

But with the runoff vote in the presidential election looming, gay rights activists feared their progress could come to a screeching halt. On Dec. 19, Chileans will choose between Gabriel Boric, a millennial leftist who has campaigned on a platform promoting decentralization, feminism and action against climate change, and José Antonio Kast, a right-wing populist and devout Catholic who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

"For us, marriage is between a man and a woman," he said Tuesday. "Parliament has taken a majority decision. That is not going to make us change our convictions." He said earlier that if the congress approved same-sex marriage, there would be little he could do about it.

But Montecinos said a Katz presidency could threaten "the little progress we have made."

"For us, this fight doesn't end now," she said.