Chilean President Bachelet pledges same-sex marriage in final year

SANTIAGO – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has said her government will introduce a same-sex marriage bill in the coming months.

The president said her government would send a bill to Congress in the second half of 2017 to allow marriage between same-sex couples, and confirmed plans to submit a pension reform bill in July.

She also announced new infrastructure including an underground railway line and copper smelter in the South American country.
President Bachelet confirms construction of Santiago metro’s Line. 7

Bachelet first led Chile between 2006 and 2010, and returned in 2014 with a more ambitious tax-and-spend agenda to try to address the country’s deep inequalities.

Her wide-ranging annual state-of-the-union Thursday’s speech to Congress in the port city of Valparaiso, which lasted over two hours, largely emphasized what she saw as the achievements of her centre-left government in its first three years.

As her term enters its final stretch, fresh announcements included plans to begin work on a new underground railway line for fast-growing capital Santiago, which local media estimated would cost some US$2.9 billion, and to study the viability of a badly-needed new copper smelter.

But opposition to those reforms, including from within her own coalition, missteps in the execution of the reforms, and declining investment amid weak economic growth, have crimped those ambitions and saw approval ratings of the once-popular Bachelet plummet.

“This is the last state-of-the-nation address of my term, and the eighth I have given,” said Bachelet in her broadcast speech. “It has been a painful story, but also one with much joy.”

She emphasized her flagship education reform, which has seen an expansion of free schooling, with some 60 percent of poorest students expected to attend university for free by next year.

Student organizations, however, say reforms have not gone far enough. They organised protests in Valparaiso and elsewhere in the country on Thursday.

IN PICTURES: Thousands of students take to streets in protest of Chile’s education system

Bachelet’s approval ratings have been creeping back up recently, standing at 31 percent in May, her strongest showing in two years, according to pollsters GfK Adimark on Thursday.

Under Chile’s constitution, Bachelet is barred from seeking a consecutive term in elections slated for November. The frontrunner to win the vote is centre-right Sebastian Pinera from the opposition coalition, who ran the country from 2010 to 2014 and has also promised infrastructure spending.

LGBTI rights in Chile

Chile’s civil unions law that Bachelet signed took effect in October 2015.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a lesbian judge who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband because of her sexual orientation. The Chilean government later apologized to Atala, paid her $70,000 and offered her medical and psychological care.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who are seeking marriage rights in the country.

Chile commemorates International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Chile in 2015 formally ended its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Bachelet’s government last June said it would introduce a bill by the end of this month that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. This pledge was part of an agreement it reached with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in its marriage lawsuit.

Her government in January formally began to promote a debate around same-sex marriage.

Former Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, who is running to succeed Bachelet, has said marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Senator Jacqueline van Rysselberghe of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party is among the most vocal opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians in the country.

Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia are among the countries in the Americas in which same-sex couples can legally marry.