By Veronica Grunewald, Human Rights Spokesperson, Liberal Party of Chile
On 28 August, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet presented a bill to modify an article of the Civil Code to allow and recognize same-sex marriage in the country. Currently Article 102 of the Civil Code indicates that marriage is a solemn contract by which a man and a woman are united indissolubly and for life, with the purpose of living together, to procreate and to help each other.
The presented bill aims to modify the definition of marriage in article 102 of the Civil Code, by establishing that it is a union between two people and eliminating the reference to the fact that it is a union between a man and a woman. In addition, the proposed amendment aims to rephrase the purpose of the marriage to “in order to live together and to form a family”. The proposal also includes the right of same-sex spouses to adoption. By changing the definition of marriage in the Civil Code a child can be adopted by a heterosexual or same-sex married couple for the sole fact of them being spouses, without having to modify adoption law.
In Chile the matrimonio igualitario has been a topic of political debate for more than 25 years. On April 4, 2012, the Chilean Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by three same-sex couples whom the Civil Registry in 2010 denied the possibility to get married in Chile. The Movement for Integration and Homosexual Liberation (Movilh) then lodged a complaint against the State of Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which acted as an intermediary to reach an agreement. As a result of this process the Chilean government promised to send the bill to Parliament before the end of the current administration in March 2018.
So with this bill presented at the end of the President’s term, she fulfilled a government promise. The bill transformed the topic of matrimonio igualitario from a contingent political issue to a state issue, which means a step forward in the area of the human rights agenda that has been raising the issue of sexual diversity for the past 25 years. The bill has been sent to Congress, where its processing will probably be postponed until the next Government takes office.
The Liberal Party of Chile has been a long-time and strong advocate for the matrimonio igualitario in the Latin American country. In 2014, the party, together with a group of Members of Parliament from various parties and Movilh, entered a bill in favour of matrimonio igualitario. In 2016, the Family and Senior Adult Commission of Congress agreed to the joint proposal of social-liberal Member of Parliament (MP) Vlado Mirosevic, 21 other MPs and Movilh, which requested the analysis and merge of the 7 bills regarding matrimonio igualitario which had been presented to Congress, as well as putting the idea of legislation to the vote. This event became the main legislative advance on the subject, since the first draft of the law matrimonio igualitario was presented in 2008. Following this breakthrough, Mirosevic lodged a direct and forthright appeal against the Catholic Church “to take up a position of tolerance and respect for the civil rights of all Chileans.”
Chile belongs to a select group of OECD countries. As such, one would expect that in accordance with the values of this organisation, it would encourage the debate of those issues that concern society in general and would be capable of questioning pre-conceived ideas or recipes that work in other countries. Similarly, one would expect that Chile, one of the countries pioneering in, for example, the installation and use of advanced technologies in the construction of intelligent buildings, would have overcome long ago the 19th century discussions on topics such as women’s participation in politics, legalization of abortion and the current debate on matrimonio igualitario.
Reality, however, is very different. Chile still suffers from the consequences of a long period of dictatorial rule including a long period of democratic and economic transition, which created a political context that kept the agenda of values far away from any public debate for 25 years. With its current participation in the presentation of political bills on topics such as euthanasia, women’s reproductive rights or same-sex marriage, the Chilean liberals have therefore taken up the role of political disruptors. According to the liberal MP Vlado Mirosevic, a lot of discussion in Congress evolves around the question whether the country is ready to have these debates. In his opinion however “to respect human rights and equality before the law, Congress does not need to ask the majority if human rights should be respected or not. They simply have to be respected. That is why I am not in favour of a plebiscite to establish whether people agree or not with same-sex marriage. It is a human right that does not require a plebiscite.”
The path of the social-liberal Liberal Party of Chile is in no way easy. The party continuously has to fight against the historical error that relates them to conservatives, neo-liberals and the dictatorship of Pinochet. Without losing sight of the horizon, the struggle of the party is focused on demonstrating that “with openness, dialogue and respect for different traditions and ideals, egalitarian civilization minimums can be achieved for the benefit of the entire population.”