CHILE: GAYS GAIN GROUND, BUT STILL LACK LEGAL PROTECTIONS.
By Benjamin Witte-Lebhar
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, SDB, STL, JCD (born 2 December 1934) is an Italian prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He currently serves as Cardinal Secretary of State and Camerlengo, having previously served as Archbishop of Genoa from 2002 to 2006. , the Pope's top aide and Vatican secretary of state, drew the ire of gay-rights supporters the world over last month when he essentially blamed homosexuals for the Catholic Church's well-publicized sexual-misconduct problems.
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia pedophilia, psychosexual disorder in which there is a preference for sexual activity with prepubertal children. Pedophiles are almost always males. The children are more often of the opposite sex (about twice as often) and are typically 13 years or age or younger; ," the Italian cardinal said on April 12. "But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."
Gay-rights groups in Bertone's home country, Italy, blasted the cardinal's comments, as did the French government, whose foreign ministry condemned what it called "an unacceptable connection [between homosexuality and pedophilia]." The openly gay mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, criticized the church statements as well, saying they "deliberately stigmatize stig·ma·tize
tr.v. stig·ma·tized, stig·ma·tiz·ing, stig·ma·tiz·es
1. To characterize or brand as disgraceful or ignominious.
2. To mark with stigmata or a stigma.
3. an identity and harm the respect for diversity and individual liberty."
But perhaps nowhere in the world were Bertone's inflammatory remarks more immediately felt than in Chile, and not just because that is where the Italian cardinal actually made his comments. For homosexuals here, the incident was a glaring reminder of just how difficult it has been to gain public acceptance and equal rights in a predominantly Catholic country that did not even legalize le·gal·ize
tr.v. le·gal·ized, le·gal·iz·ing, le·gal·iz·es
To make legal or lawful; authorize or sanction by law.
le divorce until just six yeas ago (see NotiSur, 2004-12-17).
Homosexuals have certainly made strides in Chile, which until 1998 had a "sodomy law A sodomy law is a law that defines certain sexual acts as sex crimes. The precise sexual acts meant by the term sodomy are rarely spelled out in the law, but is typically understood by courts to include any sexual act which does not lead to procreation. " that basically outlawed consenting same-sex relations. Gay characters have now begun to appear in prime-time soap operas. Santiago's bohemian Bellas Artes neighborhood is very much an "open" neighborhood. An annual love parade takes place in nearby Parque Forestal. And some politicians, including recently elected President Sebastián Piñera, a conservative, are starting to voice measured concern about anti-gay discrimination.
"We've gone up and down this country and have the firm conviction that the Chilean society as a whole has evolved positively in this regard," said Rolando Jiménez, head of Chile's leading gay-rights advocacy group, the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (MOVILH). "We're no longer the conservative society we were 20 years ago. Things have changed dramatically because of the work of the homosexual movement itself and because of the globalization globalization
Process by which the experience of everyday life, marked by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, is becoming standardized around the world. Factors that have contributed to globalization include increasingly sophisticated communications and transportation of communications."
Institutionally, however, age-old prejudices against homosexuals are still very much entrenched, spurred on by a hard-line Catholic Church that continues to influence public policy, particularly through conservative politicians from Piñera's center-right Renovación Nacional (RN) and the far-right Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI (1) (Unified Display Interface) A digital interface from the United Display Interface SIG that is designed to replace the analog VGA interface common on CRTs and flat panel monitors. UDI is expected to provide backward compatibility with DVI and HDMI interfaces. ). In March, the RN-UDI coalition--known as the Alianza--assumed power for the first time under Piñera (see NotiSur, 2010-03-26), replacing the center-left Concertación coalition of previous President Michelle Bachelet Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria (born September 29 1951) is a center-left politician and the current President of Chile—the first woman to hold this position in the country's history. (2006-2010), which had governed Chile since the end of the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
While the Vatican tried to downplay Bertone's comments, Chilean Bishop Carlos Pellegrin of Chillán defended the cardinal's position. "What the cardinal said is a product of the fact that the majority of pedophilia cases involve a homosexual orientation, that is, homosexuals who abuse minors of the same sex," Pellegrin told the news agency Orbe. The bishop added that the controversy "has provided an opportunity for our church in Chile to offer its solidarity with the Holy See."
Lobbying for legal guarantees
MOVILH lashed back, accusing Bertone of "lying" and of "immorally using homosexuals as scapegoats." In a letter addressed to the Rancagua Diocese's Bishop Alejandro Goic, president of the Conferencia Episcopal de Chile (CED (Capacitance Electronic Disc) An earlier videodisc technology from RCA that was released in 1981 and abandoned five years later. Like phonograph records, the analog disc contained grooves that a stylus rode over. ), the gay-rights organization asked that the incident be taken as an opportunity for the church to once and for all ease its discriminatory posture.
"You and the church are both familiar with the violent characterizations that your representatives have used to refer to sexual minorities and homosexuality," the letter read. "Not only have you associated us with 'pedophilia,' but also with 'sin,' 'deviance,' 'sadism,' 'lust,' 'immorality,' 'bestiality,' and the 'destruction of the family.'"
Not known for mincing words, MOVILH has distinguished itself in the past 20 years as a staunch human rights defender Human rights defender is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders (HRDs) are those women and men who act peacefully for the promotion and protection of those rights. . The organization also serves as a bridge between sexual minorities and the country's political leaders. But even MOVILH admits that advocacy has its limitations and that all the terse letters and impassioned press conferences in the world will not prevent discrimination as long as Chile fails to provide concrete legal protections.
Chile's Pinochet-era Constitution promises citizens equality before the law Noun 1. equality before the law - the right to equal protection of the laws
human right - (law) any basic right or freedom to which all human beings are entitled and in whose exercise a government may not interfere (including rights to life and liberty as well as , explaining in Article 19 that "neither the law nor any authority can establish arbitrary differences." But MOVILH and other minority-rights groups say that is not enough, that Chilean law ought to specifically define the parameters of that equal-rights guarantee.
Many on the political left agree, and in March 2005 the government of then President Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) sent Congress a bill outlawing arbitrary discrimination based on "race, ethnicity, color, national origin, socioeconomic situation, geographic zone of origin, place of residency, religion or beliefs, language, ideology and public opinion, sex, gender, sexual orientation sexual orientation
The direction of one's sexual interest toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes, especially a direction seen to be dictated by physiologic rather than sociologic forces. ," among other factors.
Five years later, however, the anti-discrimination bill, bogged down by stiff opposition from conservative Alianza legislators, has yet to become law. Without such a statute in place, argue critics, gays remain vulnerable to unfair treatment in the workplace, in school, or even in the courts. Judging the judge, because she's gay
A case in point is Karen Atala, an openly lesbian judge who lost custody of her three daughters in 2004 when the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) decided the children would suffer psychological damage were they to remain with their mother (and her female partner). Atala had won two previous lower-court decisions.
"In Chile having a different sexual orientation continues to be something people view in moral terms or as a behavioral problem. Those are the excuses used to start administrative disciplinary procedures [against gays], which in this case were used to strip a mother of the custody of her children," attorney Helena Olea of the women's rights The effort to secure equal rights for women and to remove gender discrimination from laws, institutions, and behavioral patterns.
The women's rights movement began in the nineteenth century with the demand by some women reformers for the right to vote, known as suffrage, and organization Corporación Humanas told NotiSur.
Having exhausted her legal options in Chile, Atala took the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR or, in the three other official languages – Spanish, French, and Portuguese – CIDH) is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS). (IACHR IACHR Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
IACHR Inter-American Court of Human Rights ), an autonomous, Washington D.C.-based branch of the Organization of American States Organization of American States (OAS), international organization, created Apr. 30, 1948, at Bogotá, Colombia, by agreement of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, (OAS). In 2008, after Atala failed to reach a friendly settlement with the Chilean state, the IACHR declared the case admissible. Just last month, the IACHR finally released its decision on the matter, determining that "the Chilean state violated Karen Atala's right to live free from discrimination."
"This is without a doubt a significant ruling because it's the first time, on the inter-American level, that they've determined discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Olea, who helped argue the Atala case before the IACHR. "In this sense, it establishes a precedent that's really quite positive. It's transcendent, historic."
A gay-friendly conservative?
The recently inaugurated Piñera government said it accepts the IACHR's nonbinding recommendation that it develop "legislation, policies, and programs" to do away with discrimination based on sexual orientation. It also agreed to set up a working group involving representatives of all concerned parties. The CSJ, however, has already said it will not participate, raising the possibility that the commission--should the Chilean state fail to properly comply--will eventually refer to the case to the OAS's Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution based in the city of San José, Costa Rica.
Together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it makes up the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States (OAS), (IACHR), whose rulings are binding for Chile.
Given the Alianza's historic cultural conservatism, it's hard to imagine the Piñera government will prioritize either the anti-discrimination law or a civil-union bill submitted in 2006. Yet the new president, a billionaire businessman who has made every effort to distinguish himself from his far-right UDI partners and instead sell himself as a moderate, continues to make overtures toward Chile's gay community.
Prior to last December's general election (see NotiSur, 2009-12-18), Piñera surprised many on both the right and left by appearing with a gay couple in one of his campaign ads. Political conservatives criticized the move, as did Bishop Goic, who urged the candidate to be "coherent in his values" and "limit" what he was willing to do for votes. Piñera defended the ad's content by saying he would not discriminate against anyone for "socioeconomic reasons, because of their ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation."
The new president has said he is open to passing civil-union legislation that would benefit both heterosexual and same-sex couples by extending, for example, health-care and inheritance benefits to common-law partners. But at the same time, he has attempted to appease conservatives by insisting that marriage can by definition only be between a man and a woman.
"I spoke this week with Bishop Goic, and we completely agree," Piñera told reporters last November, shortly after his pro-gay campaign ad first aired. "Our government is going to strengthen the family, which is the axis of society. It's what makes a community healthy. And we're going to strengthen marriage, which by essence and nature is between a man and a woman, who complement each other to form a family and, God willing, if they want, to have children."
How this hybrid position will actually play out in the next four years remains very much to be seen. Initial meetings with Piñera's government representatives have been positive, MOVILH reports. Last month the advocacy group met with the new head of the Servicio Nacional de la Mujer (SERNAM), Carolina Schmidt, who said she supports the anti-discrimination law.
MOVILH and other gay-rights groups have heard such promises before, including from President Bachelet, who insisted from the beginning of her term on prioritizing the law.
"During 20 years of Concertación leadership, what the government basically offered us was a willingness to talk. There were declarations of intention to ending discrimination against homosexuals, but in practice nothing ever materialized," said Jiménez.
"What we hope from this new government is that they be coherent. The president, in particular, said during his campaign that he would generate public policies against discrimination of gay and lesbian couples. But that will mean passing corresponding laws, taking concrete actions." (Sources: )