Chile President Sebastian Pinera on Tuesday introduced a bill to legalize civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, the AP 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 Life Partner Agreement (Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja).

The president signed his bill to the cheers of gay rights activists and sent it along to Congress for their approval. But angry leaders of his center-right coalition refused to attend the signing ceremony.

Pinera, who is fulfilling a campaign promise to back a civil unions bill, told daily El Mercurio last month that his bill 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.”

The move comes more than a week after roughly 1,000 people took to the streets of Santiago to protest the proposed legislation. Opponents argue the union will undermine marriage or be used as a stepping stone to legalize marriage between two persons of the same sex.

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 Mexico. Uruguay is also considering a gay marriage law.