In January the Upper House of the Chilean Congress, the Senate, approved the idea of legislating a bill, which would establish a Life Partnership Agreement. The vote on the idea of the draft bill, known as AVP for its initials in Spanish, was approved by a strong majority of 28 votes in favor, six against and two abstentions, and is similar to civil union legislation in other places. The AVP was originally conceived as a contract that two people of the same sex or opposite sex could celebrate legal status and a life together without being married. Is Chile's changing landscape for LGBT family recognition an advance or step back? Though there is considerable movement, the jury is still out.
The original initiative has been controversial for two fundamental reasons. First, because it did not legally change the civil status of the parties entering the agreement, and consequently opens up the potential for discrimination, especially against same sex couples with regard to their right to form a family. And secondly, many organizations and LGBTI activists have seen the bill as a mechanism to delay or completely close the doors to the possibility of same-sex marriage. A question on many minds is whether the AVP bill will in effect shut down the discussion on same sex marriage in Chile.
The recent event in the Senate appears to have changed these considerations. The Fundación Iguales, an organization which works through research, outreach, education, the development of public policy and the legislative framework to achieve full inclusion of sexual diversity in Chilean society, led the efforts of LGBTI organizations to modify the original bill so that it more closely reflects the principles of equality and non-discrimination.
Andrés Soffia, Executive Director of Fundación Iguales, said:
A clear majority of senators approved the bill with our changes. This signifies major progress because the Life Partnership Agreement is considered a new Institution of Family Rights. This has been the principal demand that LGBTI organizations have been making, considering a new civil status for the parties entering the agreement.
In this manner, Soffia comments, various Senators argued that this bill does not postpone the discussion of marriage equality, considering it important to approve both the AVP and the marriage equality bills soon.
This vote marks the first step in the legislative process. The AVP bill must now pass through the House of Representatives for debate. However, the clear majority votes supporting the idea of the legislation in the Upper House is a sign of hope for positive results for those who support the initiative. It remains to be seen what political opposition the implementation of the bill will face, as it is sure to face some. Will it receive the same vigorous opposition that has been attached to marriage equality, if that bill is also passed? Will potential approval of the AVP perpetuate a form of second-class families? These are important, open questions.
All of this is happening in a political climate of government change in Chile, where the President-elect Michelle Bachelet has made promises to support the LGBTI community on these issues. Best wishes to you, my Chilean colleagues!
The author may be reached at Mgomez@IGLHRC.org