Chile President Sebastian Pinera is expected next week to introduce a bill that would legalize civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, the Santiago-based La Tercera reported.

Pinera's bill would allow gay and straight couples who have lived together for more than one year to enter a legal contract called the Non-Marital Cohabitation Agreement.

The conservative lawmaker told daily El Mercurio that his measure seeks to “protect and safeguard” the civil rights of couples living outside of marriage and “safeguard the dignity of those couples, whether of opposite sex or even the same sex.”

Last month, Chile's largest gay rights group MOVILH demonstrated against Pinera's unkept campaign promise to back a civil unions bill.

The moves come 10 months after Senator Fulvio Rossi, the president of the Socialist Party, implied the Roman Catholic Church had strong-armed four senators to withdraw their support for his gay marriage bill. Rossi insisted the church's loud criticism would not deter him and that he would not withdraw his bill. However, the measure has gained little traction.

Last year, neighboring Argentina legalized gay marriage. Gay and lesbian couples can also marry in the city-state of Mexico City and their marriages are recognized throughout the country. Uruguay is also considering a gay marriage law.