Chile took the final step in legalizing same-sex unions on Thursday after a long-delayed bill was met with final approval in both houses of the country’s parliament earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the marriage equality legislation was affirmed by the Chilean Senate, where the proposal passed 21-8, according to Al Jazeera. Three lawmakers reportedly abstained from the vote. Later the same day, the Chamber of Deputies, Chile’s lower legislative house, affirmed the bill by an equally overwhelming margin: 82-20, with two parliamentarians sitting out.
The bill received partial approval last month but was referred to a Senate committee to “clarify ambiguities” in the text prior to the final vote, as reported by Reuters.
Following the vote, one final hurdle remained before the legislation became law: conservative President Sebastián Piñera. Earlier this year, he surprised many by coming out in favour of the bill. In a State of the Union address in July, Piñera said that it was time to “guarantee this freedom and dignity to all people.”
Piñera reiterated those remarks while signing the marriage equality bill into law on Thursday. He said the legislation “puts all love relationships between two people on an equal footing.
“All couples who so wish, regardless of their sexual orientation, will be able to live, love, marry and form a family with all the dignity and legal protection they need and deserve,” he said in a ceremony held at Santiago’s La Moneda Palace, which is home to the offices of the president and various cabinet ministers.
Piñera made passing the legislation a high priority for his administration during his final months in office. Chile is set for a presidential runoff on Dec. 19 in which José Antonio Kast, a right-wing populist and attorney, will face off against Gabriel Boric, a progressive lawmaker and former student activist. Kast has opposed same-sex marriages, saying that “society works best with heterosexual couples,” but said he would have signed the law if he were president.
LGBTQ+ advocacy groups celebrated the law’s passage, which has been a long time coming. Former president Michelle Bachelet originally introduced a proposal to grant full-legal recognition to same-sex couples in 2017, but it languished due to conservative opposition. Civil unions have been legal since 2015 but were only granted limited benefits—and notably omitted adoption rights for prospective LGBTQ+ parents.
MOVILH, a Chilean equality organization that has been fighting for same-sex marriage for three decades, said its legalization is a “historic and decisive step for the advancement of the human rights.
“The state definition of marriage that existed until today in Chile has collapsed,” the organization said in a statement earlier this week. “The homophobic, heteronormativity and inequality that charaterize it, to the detriment of LGBTQ+ people, has come to an end.”
When the law formally takes effect in 90 days’ time, Chile will become the 31st country in the world to grant comprehensive rights to same-sex couples and one of at least six in Latin or South America. Argentina became the first nation in the region to pass a marriage equality bill in 2010 and was soon followed by Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador in 2019 and Costa Rica in 2020.
While Mexico has yet to legalize same-sex unions federally, its Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that denying marriage rights to LGBTQ+ couples is unconstitutional. The majority of Mexican states, along with Mexico City, have granted relationship recognition to same-sex couples.
Chile, which is majority Catholic and traditionally conservative, legalized gay sex in 1994. Heterosexual couples were permitted to divorce for the first time in 2005.