Chile issues first civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples

by Katlyn Babyak
Posted 11/02/15, 11:15 am

SANTIAGO, Chile—Chile’s Civil Registry made an exception last month to its ongoing strike to perform the country’s first civil union ceremonies for same-sex couples. 

After 12 years of debate in the Chilean Parliament, President Michelle Bachelet signed the Civil Union Agreement into law in April, granting cohabitation rights to homosexual and heterosexual couples. The agreement also gives partners parental rights and health care and pension benefits but does not permit adoption. 

In a country with a historically Catholic majority and socially conservative culture, many Chileans have protested the government’s increasingly liberal social agenda. Evangelical leaders warn the civil unions eventually will lead to recognition for same-sex marriage, although not all the country’s religious leaders oppose the move.

Sergio Thompson, a 50-year-old engineer who lives in the capital city Santiago, acknowledged Chilean society had expected civil unions for a while, but insisted it’s not something positive.

“For those people, sure, it’s a solution. … But socially, it’s no contribution to the country and no one can be proud of it,” he said.

But on the topic of inheritance rights, 21-year-old business student Benedict Blacke said he doesn’t “understand why a male couple that love each other just as much as, or even more” than a heterosexual couple shouldn’t receive the same benefits and rights. 

“For me it’s a discrimination from old times that have already passed,” he said. “And we are a society that is now becoming modern and we have to accept the concept in its full scope.” 

Activists count the law as a victory in the move toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Thompson calls it a political move to capture votes and the result of demands and social pressure against the government. 

“It’s a conquest for the society to see their marriages as something natural when it isn’t,” he said. “It’s considered as something immoral.” he said. Like many Chileans, Thompson believes same-sex unions are ethically wrong and not valid since they are not recognized by the Catholic Church. He believes a nationwide referendum would allow Chileans to express their opinion of the homosexual lifestyle as damaging to society. 

But a survey in September showed 60 percent of Chileans support same-sex couples’ right to marry, up from 50 percent last year. Supporters, like Blacke, see civil unions as a step toward a more modern and tolerant society. 

“It’s part of the diversity that is advancing today,” he said. “I think in Chile we’re seeing a cultural change and we’ve been seeing it for a while.” He credits the United States for setting a global example in gay rights.

High-profile evangelical pastor Javier Soto has vocally opposed homosexual advances in society, including the recent release of a book called Nicolás Has Two Dads. Soto’s opposition provoked the leader of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual), Rolando Jiménez, to urge evangelical Christians “not to allow themselves to be deceived by these pastors who offend and hurt people just for being different than the majority.” 

Emiliano Soto, a reformed Pentecostal bishop and president of an evangelical round table (Mesa Ampliada de Entidades Evangélicas), acknowledged same-sex couples’ civil rights but said he is worried about future laws to allow same-sex marriages.

But Jesuit priest Felipe Berríos recently told CNN Chile he thinks same-sex civil unions are “excellent news for Chile.”

“The state has to be a secular state, which doesn’t mean an ambiguous or anti-religious state but a state that guarantees the rights of the majority and those of everyone,” he said. “This means guaranteeing the rights of people who have a different sexual orientation or those who already have a stable cohabitation.”

Berríos clarified civil marriage is different from religious marriage, but said homosexual and heterosexual couples living together are “children of God and loved by him just as they are, and whenever love is present, so is God.”

Katlyn Babyak

Katlyn is a former WORLD intern.

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