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Chile Elections 2013: Gay Marriage Could Be a Big Issue

Personal views on the legality of gay marriages in Chile, a country that does not recognize same-sex unions, might serve as crucial determinants in the selection of a new president in the country's upcoming November 17 elections.

Pablo Longueira, a right-wing candidate for the Independent Democratic Union conservative party who opposes gay marriage and abortion, dropped out of the presidential race on Thursday after his son revealed that his father suffers from depression. While there are no direct revelations claiming that campaigning difficulties lead to his medically-diagnosed despondency, Longueira certainly experienced tension from civil-rights groups in Chile throughout his political tenure for his views on homosexuality. 

The Homosexual Liberation Movement (MOVILH) branded Longueira and Minister of the Interior Andrés Chadwick, another Independent Democratic Union politician, "homophobic" in 2011, following their proposal to add a constitutional amendment to a civil union bill that would make marriage an exclusive relationship between members of the opposite sex. The bill's amendment was approved by the Chilean Senate's Constitution last April. 

But campaigns against conservative anti-gay marriage views don't stop there.  

Michelle Bachelet, a left-wing candidate for the Socialist Party who served as president of Chile from 2006 to 2010, announced last April that she will seek to legalize same-sex marriage if she is re-elected. She ended her presidency in 2010 with an approval rating of 84% and won a primary election in the Concertación, Chile's center-left coalition, taking 73% of the vote. 

And current Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, recognized for his fiscally conservative and socially liberal tendencies, proposed a bill in 2011 that aimed to legalize the cohabitation of same-sex couples and grant them the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, including shared health care benefits and child custody. Members of the Independent Democratic Union quickly slapped on another constitutional amendment to the legislation, ruling out the possibility of state recognition of same-sex marriages. 

While numerous strides have been made to legalize gay marriage in Chile, the country's significantly conservative National Congress and influential Catholic Church have prevented the recognition of same-sex marriages. And the Independent Democratic Union, which was supportive of the almost two-decade-long dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, has also rallied behind conservative National Congress leaders in opposition to gay marriage. 

However, a 2009 study conducted by the National Youth Institute of Chile reveals that 56% of people aged between 15 and 29, recognized as a growing and influential voting group, supported same-sex marriages while another 51% supported same-sex adoption.

And a 2011 nationwide study found that 52% of Chileans were in favor of granting same-sex couples the same legal rights given to heterosexual couples. 

The aforementioned statistics citing growing the tolerance for same-sex marriages in Chile coupled with the popularity of Bachelet as a defender of LGBT rights points to one conclusion — the personal views of candidates participating in this year's elections regarding gay marriage could make or break their futures as prospective presidents. 

And with a growing population of Chileans yearning for a return to the secularist policies of former President Salvador Allende, who was assassinated by Pinochet's United States-supported troops in 1973, unwavering notions of "traditional" marriages could be detrimental for socially conservative politicians vying for a presidential seat. 

President Piñera has taken note of this — socially conservative views on gay marriage make right-wing candidates appear outdated to a increasingly tolerant population of secularists. It remains to be seen whether the conservatives who hope to take his place will get the message too.

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