Chile's president says will send gay marriage bill to Congress in 2017

President Michelle Bachelet of Chile addresses the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet said during a United Nations General Assembly panel on LGBT rights on Wednesday that she would send a bill legalizing gay marriage to Congress in the first half of 2017.

“My government has committed to submit to Congress a bill on marriage equality during the first half of 2017,” Bachelet said, according to a transcript of her remarks.

“Furthermore, it will also consider governmental support for several measures destined to strengthen the rights of the LGBT community, including reforms to anti-discrimination laws.”

The move would follow the Chilean Congress’ legalization of same sex civil unions in January of last year and comes as many Latin American nations are extending rights to gay and lesbian citizens.

Legalizing same-sex marriage would give Chilean couples additional welfare and state life insurance rights, among other benefits, and clarify adoption rules, according to gay rights groups.

Same-sex marriage has been legalized in recent years in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and parts of Mexico, despite the powerful influence of the Catholic Church, which opposes such unions.

Chile, which returned to democracy in 1990 after a brutal 17-year military dictatorship, is by many measures Latin America’s most economically developed country, but is less socially progressive than many of its neighbors.

In 2004, it became the last country in the Western Hemisphere to legalize divorce, and it is one of the few that still outlaws abortions in all cases - something that center-left Bachelet is trying to change, against strong opposition.

Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Andrew Hay