For many LGBTQ+ Chileans who feel like “second class citizens,” the legalization of same-sex marriage is an exciting prospect. At the same time, activists question the government’s motives and worry that the law won’t go far enough in guaranteeing their rights.
Last Wednesday the Chilean Senate voted to approve legislation for marriage equality. The final bill may be voted on as soon as one or two weeks from now. If approved, the new law would allow same-sex couples to adopt children, gain custody over their partner’s child, and to gain greater civil protections.
[AHORA] ?Comisión de Constitución del Senado aprobó proyecto de #MatrimonioIgualitario que modifica diversos cuerpos legales para regular, en igualdad de condiciones, el matrimonio de parejas del mismo sexo????
Ahora la iniciativa pasa a la Comisión de Hacienda para su discusión. pic.twitter.com/bADQN0qpKZ
— Senado Chile (@Senado_Chile) June 29, 2021
Same-sex couples in Chile have been allowed to form civil unions since 2015, but are banned from adopting children, among other restrictions. As reported by El Desconcierto, the lack of marriage equality hurts people like Camila Hermosilla, who is about to give birth, and her partner Angela, who doesn’t have “any legal say over her own child.” “We feel like second class citizens,” she told the paper.
First introduced in 2017 by former president Michele Bachelet, the measure had been considered a low priority by President Sebastian Piñera – up until June 1, coincidentally the start of pride month, when he addressed congress saying “I think that we’ve reached the time for marriage equality in our country” to guarantee “the freedom to love, and to form a family with our loved ones.” In an abrupt about-face many members of the center-right ruling party Chile Vamos, including the president, now consider passing marriage equality legislation a top priority.
But back in 2017, when he was a presidential candidate Piñera was singing a different tune, affirming that “we need to respect the essence of marriage” as between a man and a woman. Perhaps he and his party’s reconsideration of LGBTQ+ rights can be traced back to the protest movement of 2019.
Shifts in Chile’s Political Landscape
In October 2019 protests erupted in Chile following a fare hike on public transit. The protests quickly turned into a national movement, with widespread public discontentment over inequality in the country. As a result, President Piñera called for a national referendum on the rewriting of the constitution.
Chile’s current constitution was passed in 1980 during Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Among its problems for many Chileans, it prioritizes the privatization of the Chilean economy and doesn’t recognize Indigenous communities, which make up 13% of the total population.
The referendum received 78% approval in October of 2020, and in May 2021 Chileans voted for the 155 members of the body charged with rewriting the constitution. The body is required to be at least 50% women and have at least 17 Indigenous members. In a surprising turn of events the center-conservative coalition Chile Vamos won only 37 of the 155 seats, the rest being won by a mixture of independent candidates and the left-leaning coalition Apruebo Dignidad. The elected body now has the next nine months to draft a new constitution, which then must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the senate and by a majority of the public in a second election.
With presidential elections around the corner this November, some experts wonder whether Vamos Chile’s sudden decision to support marriage equality isn’t politically motivated; supporting a popular social reform that has 65% approval from the public according to a recent survey. Indeed, the majority of Chile Vamos presidential candidates support passing marriage equality, including Joaquin Lavin, considered by some to be the most competitive for the center-right coalition.
LGBT Organizations Are Unsure About the New Law
On June 1, the same day that President Piñera made his address to the Chilean congress, the organization MUMs (Movement for Sexual Diversity in Chile) accused him of “pinkwashing,” saying his new-found urgency is “a facelift aimed at cushioning the effects of his government” on the LGBT community, particularly the lack of protection for the trans community.
#CuentaPúblicaCHVCNN | Presidente Piñera anuncia urgencia para proyecto de Matrimonio Igualitario: "Ha llegado el tiempo de garantizar esa libertad a todas las personas"
— CHV Noticias (@CHVNoticias) June 1, 2021
A recent study released by MUMs revealed that, while the majority of cisgender queer men and women pariticpate in Chile’s formal economy, 79% of trans women and 75% of trans men work informally without guaranteed rights or protections. Tatiana Rojas, the executive director of MUMs, told El Desconsierto “we discovered [from the results of the study] that in the workforce people are more often discriminated against for their gender identity than for their sexual orientation.” While it has representational value, MUMs believe that the largest issues facing Chile’s LGBT community “go completely beyond marriage equality.”
Chile does have a gender identity law that was passed in 2018, recognizing the right of people to change the gender they were assigned at birth. But the law doesn’t mention protections from workplace discrimination.
While MUMs remains skeptical, the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh) is fully in favor of marriage equality. “We demand each and every congressman and congresswoman who claims to support equal marriage to move from discourse to practice” and pass the law, they said in a statement.
Dashiell is a graduate of Reed College where he studied Latin American and Peninsular Spanish literature. At Latina Republic, Dashiell elevates the voices of activists and organizers that work to promote human rights and immigrant rights throughout Mexico. His work contributes to the organization’s mission of breaking stereotypes and bringing attention to underreported stories throughout Latin America.