Peru is one of the most conservative and discriminatory societies in the continent. The sole fact of proposing a law that protects the rights of same-sex couples has caused a wave of criticism and insults against opposition Congressman Carlos Bruce, who presented the initiative, as well as against human rights organizations and activists of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) community which supports the proposal.

Last September, Bruce ― a member of the congressional bloc Parliamentary Agreement ―  introduced the bill which establishes civil unions for same-sex individuals. Among the rights included are patrimonial rights, rights of inheritance, social benefits, survivor pension, and the right to legally register their civil status, among others.

In statements to the press, Bruce explained that the bill attempts to tackle the discrimination experienced by same-sex couples who want to live together because they are not protected by the same rights as heterosexual couples.

However, he specified that the initiative does not affect the institution of marriage — understood as the religious or legal bond between a man and a woman — but instead creates  “a legal figure with a different name, registered differently, which is called civil union. It would be the legal figure for same-sex individuals who wish to look for a home, a family.”

Bruce pointed out that while two people of the same sex could form a family, the bill does not include the right to adoption.

For now, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ombudsman’s Office as well as the United Nations Organization has declared themselves in favor of the bill, considering it constitutionally viable.

The opposing church

Representatives of the Catholic Church and evangelical denominations have declared themselves against the bill, pointing out that civil unions are like “undercover marriages.”

In a statement released on Apr. 3, the Peruvian Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that “the proposal of civil unions between same-sex individuals opposes the natural order, distorts the true identity of the family, contradicts the purpose of marriage, attacks the human dignity of Peruvians, threatens the healthy [sexual] orientation of children and undermines the strongest foundation of our society, which aspires to an integral human development. Its defenders invoke the right to equality, but they forget the reality of the undeniable and natural, valuable and complementary differences of human beings.”

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani described civil unions as “a caricature of marriage,” adding that “whoever wants to have a [homosexual] relationship has the right to enter into a contract.” Cipriani, member of the ultraconservative congregation Opus Dei, attacked Bruce, saying “we have not chosen congressmen to validate their own preferences,” and suggested a referendum so the people can express their views on therapeutic abortion — legal in Peru since 1924 — and civil union.

Meanwhile, the Fujimorist congressman and Evangelical pastor Julio Rosas said on his Twitter account that “as of today, the gay gene or DNA has not been found. There are only XY (male) and XX (female) [chromosomes]. Ergo, we cannot talk about human rights.”

Both Rosas and Martha Chávez, also a member of the Fujimorist congressional bloc and of the Opus Dei, have filed alternative bills in which they propose regulation for civil solidarity unions which only protect the patrimonial rights of homosexual couples but do not recognize them as such.

The Congressional Justice and Human Rights Commission will discuss the three proposals at the end of May.

On the streets

On April 12, thousands of people took to the streets of Lima and other cities in the March for Equality demanding “Civil Union Now!” organized by Bruce in conjunction with civil society and LGBTI groups.

For Gio Infante, president of the Homosexual Movement of Lima (MOHL), the oldest organization for the defense of LGBTI rights in Latin America, “Peru is changing and we are all witnesses: there is a growing public awareness ready to defend the rights of minorities in solidarity, as demonstrated by the massive March for Equality, and this means greater acceptance of differences.”

Recent polls show a growing acceptance of the rights proposed by Bruce´s bill. Although only 33 percent of those polled approve of civil union, more than half of them agreed with the rights included in the initiative, as stated in a survey conducted in mid-April by Ipsos-Apoyo.

According to Bruce, the acceptance of the civil union proposition is gradually increasing. In September of last year, the approval rate was 26 percent, according to GfK Peru consulting firm.

“As respondents receive more information on the rights included in the proposition, approval increases and disapproval diminishes,” he said in comments reported by the press. “However, the increase is not significant, apparently for lack of further information on the nature of homosexuals. A high percentage of the population believes that homosexuality is a sexual preference and can be changed. In other words, they do not recognize the natural condition of homosexuals.”

“Therefore, practically the absolute majority of those polled are in favor of the rights included in the proposed civil union amongst homosexuals, but do not approve the bond between them as a couple. This could be explained by the lack of knowledge and stubborn prejudices of a conservative population strongly influenced by homophobic religious preaching,” he added.

Ana Elizabeth Araujo, spokeswoman for the Civil Union Now! collective, stated in a column published on Apr. 22 in the newspaper El Comercio that “the Peruvian State has the wonderful opportunity to recognize the rights of homosexuals. The approval of the civil union bill is only the first step to truly build a more just and free country, in which a person will not be deprived of their rights to develop their personality and to freely love who they choose.
Therefore we urge the Commission for Justice and Human Rights to discuss the non-matrimonial civil union bill as soon as possible and approve its debate in a plenary session of the Congress without any curtailing of rights.”

“It's an extraordinary opportunity for Congress to demonstrate its strong commitment towards freedom, equality and dignity of all,” she declared.