Chile’s President Bachelet Introduces ‘Essential’ Marriage Equality Bill

In what is being called a historic act, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet has introduced a bill to give “essential” marriage and adoption rights to same-gender couples.

Chile passed a hard-won civil unions bill in 2015, but the limited measure did not provide for all the rights of marriage. In addition, the country has no provision for same-gender adoption rights. And that’s something that President Bachelet wishes to change.

In a signing ceremony at the presidential palace this past week, Bachelet spoke passionately to a crowd of LGBT rights campaigners, emphasizing, “We can’t let old prejudices be stronger than love. We do this with the certainty that it is not ethical or fair to put artificial limits on love, or to deny essential rights just because of the sex of those who make up a couple.”

The legislation will change the country’s definition of marriage from an institution between one man and one woman to a relationship between two persons. Furthermore, the legislation is expected to extend adoption rights to married couples, regardless of their gender.

The proposed legislation must now go through both chambers of Congress, and civil rights advocates believe this will be no easy task. Certainly, it seems unlikely that Bachelet will see the bill pass before she ends her term in the summer of 2018.

The main contender for the presidency next year, former president Sebastián Piñera, is known to oppose the change. According to the BBC, Piñera stated, ”There should not be discrimination, but at the same time the essence of an institution such as marriage should be respected, which has always been about conserving the human race.”

And, at the moment, it’s unclear how this sentiment might influence the bill’s fate.

What may prove most contentious is the same-gender adoption portion of the bill, something that has proved a stumbling block for legislators in other regions who aimed to amend existing laws.

Still, the legislation has been warmly received by LGBT rights advocates. Luis Larraín of the Iguales Foundationas told the Associated Press:

It’s the beginning of the end of discrimination based on sexual orientation to access marriage/ This day will be remembered as much as the day when women were granted the right to vote, slaves were freed or children born out of wedlock were granted the same rights.

Chile has a reputation for being among the most socially conservative nations in the Americas, but a swathe of recent reforms has shown that the country’s administration won’t let old values dictate civil rights issues.

For example, Chile’s abortion law historically bans the practice in all circumstances. However, Bachelet and like-minded lawmakers have managed to guide an exemptions clause through a hostile Congress. Last week, the law to ease abortion restrictions in certain circumstances cleared its final hurdle when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the legislation is lawful.

This ruling means that Chile will now allow for terminations in circumstances where a woman’s life is in danger, where a fetus is not viable or in cases of rape. Certainly, these are only small steps, but they could be crucial for sexual assault survivors who will no longer have to turn to back alley or home abortions.

While abortion and marriage equality are obviously very separate issues, they are often viewed as milestones for gauging government encroachment and societal freedom. And they are two key components of Bachelet’s political agenda.

Bachelet herself has been called the “last woman standing” in the Americas after high-profile legal troubles ousted other female presidents, such as Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Bachelet readily admits that significant work will remain after she leaves her second term as president. But for same-gender couples throughout Chile, she has helped to facilitate a major opportunity for change.

Photo credit: Macarena Viza.

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