The Venezuelan National Assembly has voted to pass a bill for gender equity and equality through the first round of discussion.

A public debate has raged within the South American country after the Venezuelan Episcopal Church publicly condemned the proposals.

If passed, the ‘Organic Law for Gender Equity and Equality’ would criminalise discrimination, as well recognise the rights of co-habiting same-sex couples and introduce civil unions.

The current wording states: “Every person has the right to exercise their preferred sexual orientation and identity freely and without any form of discrimination, and as a consequence, the state will recognise co-living associations [civil unions] constituted between two people of the same sex by mutual agreement.”

The law would also allow gender reassignment surgery and to create framework to recognise a legal change of identity between genders.

According to Venezualanalysis.com, the implementation of the law would guarantee rights of children of same sex couples.

It would also guarantee the rights of the couple in terms of social security, inheritance, rent and taxes, although no details are explicitly detailed within the article.

One of the proponents of the Article 8 of the law proposal, which contains the amendments, is National Assembly Legislator Romelia Matute.

According to the site, Matute said that if the article passes in its present form, “every person has the right to exercise their preferred sexual orientation and identity freely and without any form of discrimination, and as a consequence, the state will recognise co-living associations [civil unions] constituted between two people of the same sex by mutual agreement.”

The article also states that people who “change gender by surgical or other means have the right to be recognised by their identity and to obtain or modify the documents associated with their identification”.

It places an obligation on the state to create the conditions for their integration into society “under equal conditions.”

The bill would be a dramatic step forward for gay rights within the country where there is currently no legal recognition for same-sex couples and also no laws on discrimination based on sexual orientation, after a bill to propose this was blocked by fierce opposition from the Catholic church in 1999.

This bill is backed by President Hugo Chávez, who is said to be dissatisfied with current equality and discrimination laws in the country.