The Chilean Senate on Tuesday 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.

The proposal now heads to the 120-member Chamber of Deputies.

Alvaro Elizalde, a government spokesperson, told Reuters that the approval is “an expression of a more inclusive Chile, which values diversity and guarantees equal rights for everyone.”

“The AVP does not weaken families, but strengthens them, because regardless of origin it gives them protection,” he added.

Senator Juan Antonio Coloma of the opposition UDI party criticized the measure, saying “the next step is gay marriage and the next step is adoption, which is an extremely complex issue.”

LGBT rights advocate Movilh said in a statement: “Today triumphed family diversity and the rights of children. Today we celebrate … and hope the same will happen in the Chamber of Deputies.”