World News

New Chilean gay marriage bill likely to struggle

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Liberal opposition senators introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage in traditionally conservative Chile on Tuesday, seeking to follow Argentina’s lead in what looks to be an uphill battle.

The initiative comes soon after Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, and just days after Santiago Archbishop Francisco Javier Errazuriz called that move an “aberration.

Senator Fulvio Rossi, president of Chile’s Socialist Party, headed up the bill, which proposes removing the “man and woman” clause from Chile’s marriage law.

“We’re establishing more rights, we’re strengthening democracy and we’re making it so that the right to enter into marriage is an inherent right,” Rossi told reporters after submitting the bill.

Conservative President Sebastian Pinera has pledged to expand the rights of same-sex couples seeking civil unions, but is opposed to gay marriage, saying he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Fabian Pressacco, a political science professor at Santiago’s Alberto Hurtado University, said a divided Congress, and internal rifts within the opposition over the emotive issue, could hamper the bill in traditionally conservative Chile, where divorce was only legalized in 2004.

“It would be very difficult,” Pressacco said. “This is a topic that divides the opposition within itself, perhaps more than it divides the government from the opposition. So right now, at least, there’s not much room for discussion on gay marriage.”

He said the bill’s sponsors would have better luck if they tried first to establish more rights for civil unions, instead of heading straight for Argentina’s route to gay marriage.

A gay couple from Chile was one of the first to take advantage of Argentina’s new law, tying the knot in the wine-making province of Mendoza, but Chile doesn’t appear ready for such a big step, Pressacco said.

“Right now, the divisions among the opposition are killing this bill’s chances of moving forward,” he concluded.

Reporting by Molly Rosbach; Editing by Simon Gardner