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Chile president backs marriage equality

Activists are celebrating Sebastián Piñera’s historic change of heart

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Sebastián Piñera, Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
Sebastián Piñera

Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Blade on Thursday published a Spanish version of this story.

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President Sebastián Piñera on Tuesday announced he supports a marriage equality bill, marking a historic change of heart since he had previously opposed two people of the same sex being able to marry.

“I think the time has come for marriage equality in our country,” said Piñera in a surprising declaration that left no doubts.

“We must deepen the value of freedom, including the freedom to love and to form a family with a loved one, and (we must) also expand upon the value of the dignity of all relationships of love and affection between two people,” stressed the president during his last speech to Congress.

Justice Minister Hernán Larraín on Thursday confirmed “great urgency will be placed on it so that it can proceed with some speed and I believe it shouldn’t be very difficult because there are majorities in Congress to approve this measure. The president’s intention is not to introduce a new bill, but to move forward with the one that was already in the Senate.”

The bill that Larraín mentioned is the one that former President Michelle Bachelet sent to Congress in 2017 soon after the country entered into an agreement with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh), the country’s oldest LGBTQ rights organization, filed a lawsuit.

This means each chamber of Congress should dispatch the bill within 15 days, which Movilh President Rolando Jiménez says is a “great and hopeful sign for same-sex couples and same-sex families who live in complete legal inequality.”

“After 30 years of struggle, we are closing one of the most important battles for LGBTIQ people,” he said. “All families will finally have the dignity they deserve.”

Jiménez, who has been fighting for LGBTQ rights in the country for many years, pointed out that “we value this change in attitude by Piñera.”

“We hope that the Congress between today and tomorrow will recognize the utmost urgency (to pass the marriage equality bill.),” said Jiménez. “We especially recognize and highlight that Piñera decided to promote the same bill that we drafted together with former President Michelle Bachelet within the framework of the agreement that the State and Movilh signed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.”

Jiménez added that he and Movilh “declare ourselves especially excited because this announcement is taking place during Pride month and weeks before Movilh celebrates 30 years of struggle on June 28.”

Same-sex couples in Chile since 2015 has been able to enter into civil unions, but LGBTQ activists say this legal status is insufficient. Seven Latin American countries — Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, México, Uruguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica — are among the nations that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.  

Reactions to Piñera’s announcement

Piñera’s announcement generated a genuine political earthquake. #MarriageEquality immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. Members of Piñera’s party in Congress accused him of “treason” for deciding to push forward with the bill.

The opposition, meanwhile, celebrated the decision, but resentments remain since its relationship with Piñera’s government has been broken for a long time because of its handling of the pandemic, human rights violations during social unrest and other differences.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, through a statement declared itself in opposition to the measure. “What is established and wanted by God is that it (marriage) is only between a man and a woman,” it said.

“From the point of view of the rights of people who decide to live together, national legislation has established a regime that legally protects their decision and grants it recognition,” the church pointed out, referring to the civil union law that does not allow adoption and does not recognize paternity.

The church also affirmed that “those of us who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and savior and are guided by his teaching hold the truth that marriage established and willed by God is only between a man and a woman, a communion that creates life and establishes the family.”

Wave of anti-LGBTQ violence

Piñera’s announcement coincides with a dramatic increase in violence against queer people in Chile. The judiciary system and the government have not responded to the majority of cases in a timely manner.

Fundación Iguales, a Chilean group allied with the Human Rights Campaign, in partnership with AllOut recently launched a campaign to stop the violence and to urge Piñera’s government to reform the Anti-Discrimination Law passed in 2012 in the wake of the anti-gay attack against Daniel Zamudio, a case that sparked outrage in Chile and around the world.

The goal of the “No More Laws with Name” campaign is to raise awareness about the need to improve the current legislation to ensure that it actually prevents hate crimes.  

Fundación Iguales said it based the campaign on a survey to which 1,454 LGBTQ adults from across the country responded. Two-thirds of respondents said they had been verbally attacked over the last five years.

The results also show that a quarter of respondents said they have been physically assaulted at some point in their life because of their sexual orientation, identity or gender expression. Most of these attacks occurred in public.

“Fundación Iguales has a zero-tolerance policy for violence against LGBTI people,” said Fundación Iguales Executive Director Isabel Amor. “For this reason, we have, in addition to preparing our own survey, created an interactive platform that will allow everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, identity or gender expression, to know about their chances of suffering an attack or hate crime.”

“The numbers make clear the need for urgency to respond to the demands of sexual diversity (activists), to have full inclusion in terms of rights and benefits,” added Amor. “The first thing we have to do to achieve this is to establish that the demands for security and inclusion, as well as for marriage equality, are not niche things, but those for the majority of the population.”

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South America

Chilean president-elect names two LGBTQ+ people to Cabinet

Gabriel Boric and his government takes office on March 11

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Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric. (Photo via the Chilean government)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric on Friday named two openly LGBTQ+ people to his Cabinet.

Marco Antonio Ávila, who is a gay man, will be the country’s education minister. Alexandra Benado, who is a lesbian, will be Chile’s sports minister.

Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for Movilh (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual), a Chilean LGBTQ+ rights group, applauded Boric for naming Ávila and Benado to his Cabinet.

“The visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity is no longer an impediment to access any position in Chile,” said Zúñiga in a press release. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are irrelevant for the positions, whether they are public or private. Capability is the only thing that matters.”

Boric and his government will take office on March 11. Chile’s marriage equality law goes into effect the day before.

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South America

LGBTQ rights supporter elected next Chilean president

Gabriel Boric won election’s second round

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Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean Congressman Gabriel Boric on Sunday won the second round of the country’s presidential election.

Boric, who previously led a student protest movement, defeated José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman, by a 55.9-44.1 percent margin. Boric will succeed President Sebastián Piñera when he takes office on March 11.

Boric’s election comes less than two weeks after Piñera signed a marriage equality bill into law.

The law takes effect on March 10.

“Chile has spoken,” tweeted Movilh, a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, after Boric defeated Kast. “Democracy, equality, justice and discrimination advances.”

Emilia Schneider, who became the first openly transgender person elected to the Chilean congress last month, also applauded Boric’s election.

“Hope always defeats fear,” tweeted Schneider. “We are going to need the same organization and commitment that we showed in this second round (of the election) to defend a transformative government.”

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South America

Chile’s president signs marriage equality law

Sebastián Piñera in June announced support for measure

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Sebastián Piñera, Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera (public domain photo)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President Sebastián Piñera on Thursday signed a law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in the South American country.

“Freedom, true freedom is always built when we recognize ourselves as equal in dignity and in rights and above all under the law,” he said during a signing ceremony that took place at the Presidential Palace in Santiago, the Chilean capital.

The signing ceremony took place two days after the marriage equality law passed in the country’s Congress.

Movilh, a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who were seeking marriage rights.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a Chilean judge who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband because she is a lesbian. The landmark decision established a legal precedent that has been used to advance marriage rights for same-sex couples throughout Latin America.

A law that allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions took effect in Chile in 2015.

The government of former President Michelle Bachelet — who is now the U.N. high commissioner for human rights — in 2016 said it would introduce bills to extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples as part of an agreement between it, Movilh and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Movilh in 2020 withdrew from the agreement after it accused Piñera of not doing enough to advance marriage equality in Chile. Piñera in June announced his support of the issue.

“I celebrate marriage equality in Chile, which ensures recognition and protection for all families, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” tweeted Bachelet on Wednesday. “It’s an important step for the country and I hope others will follow this example.”

Piñera signed the marriage equality law less than two weeks before the second round of Chile’s presidential election in which Congressman Gabriel Boric, who previously led a student protest movement, will face off against José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman. The marriage equality law will take effect before Piñera leaves office in March.

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