Antofagasta, Chile – Chile has become the latest country to legislate marriage equality, as both chambers of Congress legalised same-sex marriage in landslide votes on Tuesday.
“This is an historic day,” said Pedro Arraya, a recently re-elected senator from the Antofagasta region, as he cast his vote in favour of the bill.
Chile’s Senate voted 21-8 in favour of the marriage equality legislation around midday on Tuesday, with three abstentions. An hour later, the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill 82-20, with two abstentions, in a final floor vote.
The law includes recognition of parental ties, full spousal benefits and adoption rights for married same-sex couples. It also will replace gendered terms with the words “spouse” and “parent” in the country’s civil code and other laws, among other reforms.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, whose term ends in March of next year and came out in support of the bill earlier this year, now needs to enact the legislation. It will then take effect 90 days after its publication in the country’s official gazette.
“We have mixed emotions: first, a lot of joy, and second, a lot of nostalgia,” said Oscar Rementeria, a spokesperson for MOVILH, a Chilean LGBTQ organisation, about Tuesday’s vote.
Nearly a decade ago, MOVILH and three same-sex couples took their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to push for marriage equality. That eventually led to the bill that was passed in Congress, but marriage equality had been a demand since MOVILH’s founding in 1991.
“Marriage equality was one of many demands but it is a very important one because it has such a tremendous importance in the social and family life of our country,” he told Al Jazeera.
Push for marriage equality
Chile is the ninth country in the Americas to pass marriage equality legislation, joining Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, the United States, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.
In Mexico, a majority of states have passed marriage equality bills, while same-sex marriage is legal in nearly all European and US territories in the hemisphere.
The Chilean bill was originally sponsored by President Pinera’s predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, who introduced it in 2017. Pinera’s government threw its full support behind marriage equality this year.
“I think the time has come to guarantee that freedom and that dignity to all people. I think the time has come for marriage equality in our country,” Pinera said June 1 in his annual speech to Congress, prompting the bill’s rapid push through the legislature.
LGBTQ representation in Congress is also poised to advance.
On November 21, four LGBTQ women were elected to the Chamber of Deputies and the country’s first openly lesbian, transgender and bisexual women lawmakers will take office in March.
But the country’s LGBTQ community remains on edge, as an upcoming presidential runoff election on December 19 pits Gabriel Boric, a progressive social democrat, against Jose Antonio Kast, a far-right religious conservative.
Boric, a 35-year-old congressman and former student activist, has supported marriage and full equality for same-sex couples, including adoption rights. He has consistently voted for LGBTQ rights and his campaign platform includes a comprehensive transgender rights law.
Kast, a 55-year-old lawyer and former congressman, has openly opposed marriage equality and adoption rights for same-sex couples. When in office, he consistently voted against LGBTQ rights and refers to “gender ideology”, a conspiratorial term used to negate transgender people and their rights.
The potential rollback of LGBTQ rights has galvanised many in the community. In the decade since its founding, LGBTQ rights group Fundacion Iguales has always remained neutral during elections but announced its support for Boric in late November after Kast made it through to the runoff.
“Jose Antonio Kast has a track record not only of opposition to [LGBTQ rights] but also one of open confrontation,” said the group’s director, Alessia Injoque. “Given the danger he represents, we saw the need to take a stand.”
For now, though, the LGBTQ community in Chile is celebrating the historic win in Congress.
“We are increasingly seeing more countries moving in the direction of a world where we can live freely, without fear and without discrimination,” Injoque told Al Jazeera after the bill passed. “This is a great day for Chile.”