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CHILE: Law on Civil Union for Gays Within Reach

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, May 17 2006 (IPS) - Chile may soon have a law to regulate the inheritance rights of both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples, according to activists and lawyers who are working on a draft version of the law.

Legal provision for common law couples was widely discussed during the last election campaign, and was included in the government plan of Michelle Bachelet, who became president in March and heads a centre-left coalition made up of the Socialist Party, the Party For Democracy, the Christian Democrat Party and the Radical Social Democratic Party.

Her rival, rightwing businessman Sebastián Piñera, was also in favour of the initiative, although his ally in the run-off ballot, Joaquín Lavín of the conservative Independent Democratic Union, proclaimed his total opposition to legalising civil unions for homosexuals.

In the present favourable political scenario, representatives of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) and of the Human Rights Programme of the Faculty of Law at the private Diego Portales University are drawing up a draft law that will benefit common law heterosexual couples as well as gays and lesbians.

“MOVILH is promoting social participation in putting this draft law together, because we want the process to be as transparent, democratic and participative as possible,” the movement’s president, Rolando Jiménez, told IPS. Jiménez also actively promoted the anti-discrimination law that is in its final stages in parliament, and is expected to be enacted within the next few months.

Details of the new draft law were made public at a May 9 Forum on Same-Sex Civil Unions in Chile, held at the Diego Portales University. Panelists included Jiménez, Carlos Pizarro, a lawyer specialised in civil law, and Miguel Angel Sánchez, a leader of Spain’s gay rights movement.


Sánchez is the head of the non-governmental Triangle Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting equal rights for sexual minorities in Spain, and is presently concerned with establishing cooperative links with similar organisations in Latin America.

“I have found that Chilean GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual) organisations, especially MOVILH, are tremendously active, and are setting forth very serious proposals,” Sánchez, who finds many similarities between Chilean and Spanish society on this issue, commented to IPS.

“The first reaction is rejection due to a lack of knowledge, because it seems as though we are demanding special rights. But when well-intentioned people, who are the majority, begin to see that our families are just like their families, the perception changes and they accept that people’s happiness comes first,” he added.

During his visit, Sánchez spoke about the struggle engaged in by the GLBT community in Spain over the past 30 years, which achieved a landmark victory in June 2005, when the Spanish Congress approved a modification of the Civil Code allowing same-sex marriages.

Apart from Spain, where 15,000 couples have already been married, laws of this kind have only been passed in the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada. Civil unions, however, have enjoyed greater acceptance worldwide.

The Spanish activist, who himself got married a month ago, met with Francisco Estévez, the director of the Division of Social Organisations of the Ministry Secretariat-General of the presidency, on May 10. The Chilean gay movement has interpreted this meeting as a positive signal from the Bachelet administration.

“I’m not here to teach anybody anything, I’ve come to share our experiences in Spain, and to learn from our fellow activists in Chile, who are doing a great job,” Sánchez stated.

“I think President Bachelet knows that politicians are there to serve the people of their country, and at present many of them suffer discrimination, a problem that must be solved so that we can make progress towards equality together,” he added.

Sánchez emphasised that the legislation that MOVILH is promoting will benefit not only the gay and lesbian community, but also unmarried heterosexual couples, who have no legal protection of their social and property rights.

One of the forum participants, a gay Chilean man who has lived with his partner for 10 years, said that he had resorted to a number of legal manoeuvres in order to ensure that his partner would not be left destitute if he himself should have an accident or die.

The director of the Human Rights programme at Diego Portales University, Felipe González, told IPS that after discussing the draft law with social organisations, they would be meeting government officials and lawmakers to finetune the bill.

If all goes according to schedule, in a few months the government should introduce the draft law in the legislatures for fast track treatment, as otherwise “it will remain on the back burner of the parliamentary agenda,” the lawyer said. It is hoped that Bachelet herself will sign the bill into law before her term ends in 2010.

In 2001, MOVILH drew up a draft law on civil unions which was submitted to Congress by 19 legislators, but was not adopted due to technical flaws.

“But it did place the demands of homosexuals in the eye of the public” said Jiménez, adding that surveys showed that 60 to 70 percent of the Chilean population were in favour of the initiative.

At the forum, some participants were unsure about what demands the Chilean homosexual movement might make in the future, once such a momentous gain as the right to civil unions has been achieved.

Jiménez warned that he thought political and social conditions were not yet ripe for issues like same-sex marriage, adoption and assisted fertility to be raised in Chile, but he assured his listeners that work would continue as energetically as before to achieve fully equal rights for sexual minorities.

Pizarro described the main points of the draft law on civil unions, stressing its provisions as to how possessions, inheritance and social security are to be treated, as well as how civil unions will be celebrated and how they can be terminated.

“The city of Buenos Aires already has a law on civil unions, and the Argentine gay community has presented a similar draft law at the national level, which has a good chance of being approved,” Sánchez said.

“Similar draft laws also exist in Brazil and Colombia,” a fact which encourages the activist to believe that this is a process that will spread throughout all the countries in the region.

 
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