Brazil is one step closer to allowing same-sex civil unions in law, after a 16-year-old bill was finally passed yesterday.

The country’s human rights committee yesterday approved a measure to change the law regarding civil unions – the new bill classes a ‘union’ as a contract between two people in a ‘continuous and long-lasting’ relationship, established with the aim of starting a family, regardless of gender.

This bill, sponsored by Senator Marta Suplicy, moves the law forward in line with what is already happening in the country. Since May 2011, the Supreme Court has been approving civil unions for same-sex couples, and state courts have since allowed these to become fully-fledged marriages.

Sen. Suplicy said: “All we have done is added something to civil law that the Supreme Court has already done.”

Despite the precedent set by the Supreme Court, some same-sex couples have experienced difficulties in obtaining recognition for their civil unions due to the lack of firm legislation. This law, if passed, will make it much more difficult for judges to deny couples their right to legal benefits offered by a civil union.

The bill must pass other Senate committees and make it through the House of Representatives before the law is changed. Same-sex marriage is not yet recognised by the courts.