Chilean lawmakers approve same-sex civil unions


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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chilean lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill that recognizes civil unions between same-sex couples.

The legislation now goes to President Michelle Bachelet, who is expected to sign it. Government spokesman Alvaro Elizalde welcomed the bill's passage as "a breakthrough that we are proud of as a government."

The measure has been in the works for four years and will give same-sex and unmarried couples many of the rights granted to married couples. Among the changes, it will allow civil union partners to inherit each other's property, join a partner's health plan and receive pension benefits.

Civil unions have been recognized in several countries across South America, but conservative Chile has been slower to change. It decriminalized gay sex in 1999 and the killing of a gay man in 2012 set off a national debate that prompted Congress to pass a hate crimes law.

Argentina and Uruguay are the only South American nations to allow full marriage by gays and lesbians.

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