Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has signed a bill into law recognising civil unions between same-sex couples on 13 April. According to the Wall Street Journal, the law, which also recognises common law marriages, will grant benefits for some two million people.

Rolando Jimenez, president of the Gay Liberation and Integration Movement, told the Associated Press, "This ends the monopoly of having to recognise unions, families, as just within marriage. This is very good news for Chile."

The new measure, which has been in the works since the Sebastian Piñera administration, will take effect in six months. The AP reported the law will allow partners to join one another's health insurances, inherit one another's property and receive pension benefits.

Speaking at the presidential palace, La Moneda, Bachelet said, "Today we're advancing as a society. We're taking a fundamental step on this road of rights, justice and respect for individual liberties." She added, "This is a concrete step in the drive to end the differences between homosexual and heterosexual couples."

Gay rights advocates have lauded the new law as a step towards full marital rights. "The law recognises that two persons living together, even if [they] are of the same sex, are a family," Luis Larraín, president of Fundación Iguales, told the Wall Street Journal.

Chile has been known as one of the most socially conservative nations in South America. While many countries in the region recognise civil unions between same-sex couples, only Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil recognise same-sex marriages.