A Chilean Senate committee this week unanimously approved a bill which seeks to recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

The legislation, first introduced in 2011 by former President Sebastian Pinera, would allow gay and straight couples who have lived together for more than one year to enter a legal contract called the Life Partner Agreement (Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja), or AVP.

Earlier this year, the Senate agreed to the legislation in principle.

President Michelle Bachelet, who served as the country's first female leader between 2006 and 2010, returned to power in March. She campaigned on a progressive platform, promising to carry out reforms such as a free post-secondary education, legalizing abortion and opening discussions on same-sex marriage.

Justice Minister Jose Antonio Gomez has proposed legislation which would make Chile only the fourth South American country behind Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to allow gay couples to marry.