A historic vote granting equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in Chile has been heralded by activists as a triumph and a blow to the conservative agenda of presidential candidate José Antonio Kast.
Kast won the majority of votes in November’s first-round vote, instilling a wave of fear among the country’s LGBTQ+ community. A tight runoff between Kast and his progressive opponent, former student protest leader Gabriel Boric, is scheduled on 19 December.
While Boric advocates greater rights for minorities, Kast’s agenda is founded upon traditionalist politics formed by devout Catholic values.
“Marriage equality is a ray of sunshine, a bit of hope,” said Isabel Amor, director of the gay rights organization Iguales, who said that the country’s LGBTQ+ community is in a “very fragile emotional state” with the threat of a Kast presidency. “We have to ask what we will lose if he gets the presidency.”
Kast, who denies he is homophobic, has said that “society works best with heterosexual couples”; his presidential program offers subsidies to married heterosexual families with children, deliberately excluding same-sex couples.
During his 16 years as a deputy, he routinely resisted progressive legislation, voting against an anti-discrimination law in 2012 and the Civil Union agreement in 2015 – both of which were eventually passed. He fiercely opposed the gender identity bill, which was passed in 2018 to give legal protections to trans people.
The equal marriage bill will allow same-sex couples parental rights, which was not possible under the Civil Union act. It was first submitted by Michelle Bachelet’s government in 2017 but was neglected by lawmakers until given urgent status by president Sebastian Piñera in June. Piñera previously opposed the law but said “life” and “meeting people” had led him to change his mind.
Chile is the sixth nation in South America to legalize same-sex marriage, joining Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador.
“It is a feeling of peace, of justice and social vindication,” said Loa Bascuñan, 42, who has been waiting “years” for marriage equality. “It’s more than just being able to get married – it’s about being equal.”