Chile Steps Forward on LGBTI Rights

People wave a huge rainbow flag during the Gay Pride Parade in Santiago on June 22, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ CLAUDIO SANTANA        (
People wave a huge rainbow flag during the Gay Pride Parade in Santiago on June 22, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ CLAUDIO SANTANA (Photo credit should read CLAUDIO SANTANA/AFP/Getty Images)

One year ago, I wrote about the Chilean Senate approval of a measure that supported the "Idea of a Life Partnership Agreement." That vote marked a major advance in a legislative process that I am now elated to say was approved on Wednesday by the Chilean Congress. The bill would allow same sex couples to enter into civil unions, fully recognized by the state.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission applauded the Chilean legislature's vote to allow civil unions for all people, including same-sex couples with good reason. The historic decision grants legal status to stable and permanent cohabitation by two people, without regard to either person's sex or gender. While the bill does not legalize same-sex marriage, it is a major step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Chileans and families. It ensures many benefits and rights under law for civil union partners under law.

Most importantly, the law expands the concept of family, assuring that the legal family status of individuals who enter into civil unions is modified in the Civil Registry, and requiring Family Courts to implement the new processes. Civil society groups worked long and hard to achieve this expansion of the concept of family. Under this law, children living with co-habitating couples will be considered relatives by affinity and, and, should the parents of a child become disabled, a family judge has the discretion to grant a civil partner custody of the children, without giving priority to biological family bonds. This law also guarantees benefits to the partners, social security, and life-insurance benefits. This is a tremendous advance for all Chilean families.

Approval of this bill shows the dedication of the Chilean civil society, and the political will of the government. While we view this decision positively we also recognize the legal limits of civil partnerships. Though this bill gives civil partners nearly all the rights and benefits of married couples, the ultimate goal must be full equality before the law, which includes the possibility of marriage.

The Chilean Chamber of Deputies approved the bill with 78 votes in favor, following Senate approval. This final legislative step gives a green light for the bill to become law with President Michelle Bachelet's signature. According to press reports,President Bachelet has assured that she will sign the bill into law.
The approved text comes after four years of deliberation and is based on recommendations from civil society organizations, including Fundación Iquales a Chilean organization, which works through research, outreach, education, and the development of public policy and law to achieve full inclusion of sexual diversity in Chilean society. Fundacion Iquales led the efforts of LGBTI organizations to modify the original bill so that it more closely reflects the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

Karen Atala, a Chilean judge, board member of Fundación Iguales, and recipient of the IGLHRC Celebration of Courage Award in 2013 said:"The LGBTI community, our partners, and families, are starting to see justice. Eleven years have passed since the Supreme Court of Chile ruled to take my daughters away from me because of prevailing stereotypes and prejudice. It was the prejudices -- and not our lives -- that made lesbian relationships illegitimate and deemed our families to be anomalies. This law gives us legitimacy. We're still working on gaining the full rights of marriage. We are not going to rest until we win full legal recognition for marriage, affiliation, and adoption."

We are proud and grateful for the legal struggle in which Karen Atala, her daughters and the international LGBT and feminist communities prevailed to see her case brought to positive resolution The order of the Inter-American Court of Human and the actions that followed within Chile set the foundation for the recent law allowing civil unions for all people in Chile. We at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission hope this now gives support to further advances leading to full equality for all.