Chile’s Senate passed a bill on Wednesday legalizing same-sex unions, bringing the country closer to marriage equality than ever before.
The landmark legislation will extend the rights already given to heterosexual married couples — including adoption — to same-sex couples, according to the Buenos Aires Times. The bill will now be sent to the lower house of the National Congress of Chile, known as the Chamber of Deputies, for final approval. If approved with no amendments, it will then be approved by the president.
Movilh, a Chilean LGBTQ+ rights organization that has been advocating for marriage equality for years, called the bill’s passage a “triumph of justice and equality.” “The end of discrimination against same-sex couples… is near,” the group said in a Wednesday tweet.
“We are thankful to everyone who has worked on this project, who have put the focus on and accelerated human rights,” Movilh spokeswoman Daniela Andrade added in a video posted on Facebook. “Today, we can say that in Chile, marriage equality is advancing toward a new future, in which you, me, and everyone can form a family protected by the state, with the human rights we deserve — as people, and as citizens of this country.”
But Andrade also chided the Senate for taking so long to address the bill in comments to the Chilean news site Quirihue Noticias. She said she did not want to celebrate lawmakers for simply doing their jobs. “This bill waited four long years in the Senate,” she added. “It’s too late for them to be approving a right that has had the backing of the majority of Chileans for years. We hope the Chamber of Deputies will take a different path, and quickly make marriage equality into law.”
Chile previously legalized same-sex civil unions in 2015, but the marriage equality bill has been in the works since 2017, when it was first sent to the legislature by former President Michelle Bachelet.
The bill’s introduction followed a June 2016 settlement between Movilh and the Chilean government over the country’s denial of full marriage equality to same-sex couples. In 2012, Movilh filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), on behalf of several queer couples who wished to get married. The IACHR is the official court of the Organization of American States (OAS), a political and judicial forum made up of 35 independent states of the Americas.
The bill subsequently stalled for several years under the conservative administration of Bachelet’s successor, Sebastián Piñera, whose coalition did not support it.
Movilh criticized Piñera last year for neglecting the bill, according to the LGBTQ+ newspaper Washington Blade. The group drew attention to the fact that under a 2018 IACHR ruling, Chile is required to guarantee same-sex partnets the same rights as heterosexual couples — along with all other countries that have adopted the American Convention on Human Rights.
LGBTQ+ advocates and conservatives alike were, thus, surprised earlier this month when Piñera announced that he wanted the bill to be passed with “urgency” in his state of the union address, according to the BBC.
“I think the time for equal marriage has come,” he said. “I think we should deepen the value of freedom, including the freedom to love and to form a family with a loved one.”
The endorsement may have something to do with the fact that Piñera’s popularity has plummeted in the wake of a recent economic downturn and protests against economic inequality and police abuse. A whopping three quarters of Chileans disapprove of the president’s management of the country, as Reuters reported in April.
Marriage equality is currently legal in six Latin American and Caribbean U.N. member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, according to a 2020 report from the global LGBTQ+ advocacy group ILGA. Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, also urged his country’s National Assembly to take up the issue last year, following comments from Pope Francis supporting civil unions.
The IACHR ruling applies to all countries that have signed the American Convention on Human Rights, but some have yet to comply. Honduras is even trying to make it harder to legalize same-sex unions: In January, its congress voted to increase the number of votes required to overturn the country’s equal marriage ban.