Chilean lawmakers sent a bill to congress Wednesday to grant legal status to gay and lesbian couples in a bid to liberalize the country's conservative family laws. In Chile, a Catholic nation where divorce is illegal and a macho culture dominates, gays and lesbians suffer harsh discrimination. The law would allow same-sex couples who have lived together for at least two years to legalize their union through a civil contract granting them rights to pensions and inheritances. Lawmakers estimate the law will benefit some 300,000 Chileans. Right-wing opponents have vowed to defeat the bill.
The law would not permit same-sex marriages nor the adoption of children by gay couples. It would allow couples to split on the grounds of family violence or mutual agreement. "Our society is not that conservative," said Deputy Maria Antonieta Saa, one of the backers of the bill. "A small powerful group is holding Chilean society hostage because they don't want to reform the laws so that citizens have the option of choosing their own lifestyle." Legislators in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, passed a similar
law last December in a move hailed as the first in Latin America.