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Chile's elections: “Who gets the gay vote?”

Gay men are holding hands and lesbians are kissing on prime-time TV, as candidates try to win over the gay vote.

“This has been positive, in that candidates are putting the historical demands of the homosexual movement on the agenda. But this didn’t come out of nowhere: it is a result of many years of our work, lobbying politicians and raising public awareness about our rights,” said Rolando Jimenez, president of MOVIHL.

Yet not everyone supports this new inclusive spirit.

For an outraged Catholic Church, the ads were just going too far.

“In the interest that candidates have to attract voters they present many different realities, but there are limits to this,” warned the president of the Bishops Conference, Monsignor Alejandro Goic.

And the two-party alliance that Pinera represents is deeply divided on whether the issue should be part of the campaign. Some of its more conservative leaders are outright angry that they weren’t consulted before the television spot ran.

In any case, many have little faith in the authenticity of the candidates’ sudden compassion for gays and their rights. The gay community is expecting concrete results, and so far, there has been very little to show.

One bill under consideration would extend benefits currently granted to married couples to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples who live together. It is still being discussed in congressional commissions, and has been delayed by the objections of right-wing representatives of Pinera’s political coalition.

Another bill that would establish measures against discrimination was introduced in 2006 but has been stuck in the Senate because the Pinera-allied UDI party has refused to accept that sexual minorities also benefit from the law.

And the candidates' actual platforms don't go much further either.

Pinera’s government program only makes a vague reference to “strengthening and extending people’s rights … including dimensions not institutionally covered to date, ensuring a more pluralist and integrated society.”

Enriquez-Ominami, who sponsored a bill on gay marriages in 2008, didn’t include such a proposal in his government platform, only expressing support for civil unions.

MOVIHL has fared better with Frei, starting with a meeting last June in which the candidate for the first time referred to the civil unions of homosexuals as a “human rights” issue and not just a “moral” one, as it is generally considered in Chile. However, what Frei has so far outlined as his government program doesn't even mention these rights.

“Next year Congress will have to vote on the non-discrimination and civil unions bills," Jimenez said. "The candidates and their parties will have two opportunities to prove they mean what they say."