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Chile’s House of Representatives approved a “civil union” bill this week granting legal rights to same-sex couples. The bill creates the Pacto de Unión Civil (PUC), a new legal status for couples that live together in committed relationships, regardless of gender. Despite stiff opposition from religious leaders, the bill passed with an overwhelming majority of 86 votes in favor, 23 against, and 2 abstentions. It now awaits approval by the Chilean Senate.

The vote marks another step toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Chile. In 2012, Chile passed a hate crime and anti-discrimination law that protects individuals harmed on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law was approved in the wake of the brutal murder of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man who died after being found severely beaten with swastikas carved into his body.

On the international stage, Chile has similarly taken positive steps. Last September, Chile was one of the lead sponsors of an important UN Human Rights Council resolution aimed at combating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite these advances, Chile’s LGBT community still faces challenges. Local rights groups, like the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (MOVILH), report ongoing violence against LGBT people, including the murder of two transgender women in the last month. Rights groups continue to fight for greater recognition for LGBT rights, including better investigations and prosecutions in anti-LGBT crimes, and more inclusive gender identity laws.

The Chilean Senate should pass the new civil union law, sending a strong message in support of LGBT people.

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