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  • Brittany Hernández

The Legalisation of Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption in Chile

Although consensual, same-sex relationships have been legal in Chile for more than two decades, gay couples have still been denied the right to wed legally. Currently, couples are only allowed to enter into civil unions and don’t have the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples.

However, with recent legislative changes, same-sex couples will soon be able to marry, adopt children together, and be viewed as equals before the law.

This article will explore same-sex marriage and adoption legislation in Chile and what the changing laws mean for LGBTQ+ couples.

Legalisation of Same Sex Marriage in Chile

History of LGBTQ+ rights in Chile

As a predominantly Catholic country, many of Chile’s national laws on LGBTQ+ rights, adoption, and even abortion, have been religiously influenced. For years, policymakers continued voting to keep same-sex relationships illegal, and it wasn’t until 1998 that they were finally decriminalised.

Despite same-sex relationships becoming legal in the late 90s, many couples could not have their relationships formally and legally recognised. Advocacy groups have long pushed for same-sex couples to have equal recognition before the law, and in 2015, the government finally passed a law that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

In the same year, the government also introduced provisions for same-sex couples cohabitating together, allowing them to co-own property or receive pension benefits. The bill also enabled gay partners to have more custody rights of shared children, but only if the biological parent could no longer care for the child or serve as the primary legal guardian.

Nevertheless, none of these bills allowed same-sex couples to formally adopt children together, even though a previous 2012 decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that same-sex couples in Chile should have equal custody and adoptions rights as heterosexual couples. Existing legislation on adoption rights for gay couples remained limited and continued only to allow one partner of the couple to adopt the child legally. This meant that many same-sex parents were not recognised or acknowledged as legal parents of shared children.

But in 2017, then president Michelle Bachelet introduced a new bill to legalise same-sex marriages and expand adoption rights for gay couples. Public support for the bill was strong, and many Chileans have welcomed the legalisation of same-sex marriages.

However, the bill stalled when Sebastián Piñera, a conservative, later assumed office in 2018.

What was the process behind the legalisation of same-sex marriage and adoption?

Before Bachelet’s bill proposal, several attempts were made to pass same-sex marriage laws but were vetoed or did not gain enough support from congress.

And by 2019, Piñera’s government had shifted its attention away from the same-sex marriage bill to the country’s ongoing protests. The demonstrations aimed to reform Chile’s constitution and make the country more socially, economically, and culturally inclusive.

It wasn’t until June 2021, shortly before the end of his term, that Piñera came out in public support of same-sex marriages and the bill Bachelet had proposed. He acknowledged his shift in views by stating that he wanted to “guarantee freedom and dignity to all people.” He then set a goal to fast-track the bill before the end of his term.

The vote took place in December 2021, first going through the lower house of parliament. It received overwhelming support in the lower house with 21 to 8 votes before moving to the Senate, where it was approved by 82 to 20 votes.

Once passed in the Senate, Piñera then signed the bill into law.

Legalisation of Same-Sex Marriage

What was the reaction to the legalisation of the new law?

After Piñera showed support for same-sex marriages, many conservatives in his government were stunned at his change of views.

Other policymakers, such as Leonidas Romero of Chile’s National Renewal Party, disapproved of Piñera’s shift in beliefs and noted that the bill does not align with the values of the country’s Christian communities.

However, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, such as Movilh and Amnesty International, have welcomed the decision, stating that it is a step towards LGBTQ+ equality. Some ministers in Piñera’s government, including Karla Rubilar, the Minister of Social Development, said the bill showcased the country’s social and political shift, noting that the law was monumental in LGBTQ+ rights movements.

The bill has also received support from the country’s incoming president, Gabriel Boric. Boric has long been an avid supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and has plans to introduce new LGBTQ+ equality laws during his tenure as president.

Others believe that the bill’s approval will positively impact the country’s economy, as industries may see a boom in business as more same-sex couples begin planning their weddings.

New Adoption rights in Chile

What happens next?

The new law will come into effect approximately 90 days after being transcribed in the Official Gazette, the country’s official law publication. The publication is anticipated to occur around the time of the government’s transition. President Piñera is set to leave office in March 2022, and Boric will take office shortly after.

From this date, same-sex couples will be able to register their marriages, legally adopt children together, and have equal rights before the law. The new bill will also extend adoption rights to same-sex couples who have previously entered into civil unions and ensure that both spouses have equal parental rights.

With the legalisation of marriage equality, Chile has become the 8th country in Latin America to offer full equal rights for same-sex couples. Many LGBTQ+ advocates hope the bill brings more awareness to LGBTQ+ issues, provides more rights to marginalised people, and reduces discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community in Chile.

Edited by Christophe Locatelli

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