Chile's congress passed a hate-crimes law Wednesday night, months after a group of alleged neo-Nazis were arrested in the brutal murder of a young gay man.
The law enables people to file anti-discrimination lawsuits and adds hate-crime sentences for violent crimes. Gay activists waved Chilean flags when it passed by a vote of 25-to-3.
The law was stuck in Congress for seven years, but President Sebastian Pinera put it on the fast track after the death of Daniel Zamudio in March prompted people all across Chile to discuss hate crimes. He was found beaten and mutilated in a city park, with swastikas carved into his body. Lawmakers also are preparing to debate the president's proposed civil union law granting inheritance and other rights to same-sex couples.
"It's an enormous culture change for our country," said Sen. Alberto Espina, with the center-right ruling coalition.
"Chile is a country that discriminates against Mapuche (Indians), homosexuals, that discriminates against people for their nationality and for having disabilities," he added. "We have to assume this as a reality instead of hiding it under the rug."
Four suspects, some with criminal records for attacks on gays, have been jailed in Zamudio's killing. Prosecutors have asked for murder charges.
Many in Chile refer to the measure as the Zamudio law. Opposition Sen. Ximena Rincon said it honors his memory.
"This is the beginning of the end for those who discriminate against sexual orientation, disability, ethnic origin and race," Gay Liberation and Integration Movement President Rolando Jimenez said. "Today citizens have a judicial tool to defend themselves against discrimination. That is very good news. Starting today, Chile is a better place to live."
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report.