A bill that would allow Peruvians to enter into same-sex civil unions has sparked controversy in the Andean nation, where it is staunchly opposed by conservative politicians and the Catholic Church.

Congressman Carlos Bruce introduced a bill this month that would authorize gay and lesbian civil unions, an idea rejected by 65 percent of Peruvians compared with the 26 percent who approve of it, according to a survey released last Sunday.

The "civil union" bill has already gone to Congress' Justice Committee, where it will be debated next March, and, if it is passed, will be sent for debate to a plenary session of the legislature, Bruce told Efe.

For the congressman, "civil union" offers two kinds of benefits: economic ones and those related to the dignity of a person.

"The first group of benefits are the economic ones: that either partner can inherit assets held in common in the same way heterosexuals do, that the social security of one can cover the medical treatments of the other, and that they can inherit pensions and retirement benefits," he said.

Included in the second group is the chance for same-sex couples to be considered "first-degree relatives in the case of hospital visits, for choosing surgical procedures if one partner is unconscious, and being handed over the body of a deceased partner for burial as he or she sees fit."

One of the leading opponents of the bill has been the cardinal of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani.

"Whoever wants to have a (homosexual) relationship has the civil right to do so, but it's not necessary to go through this caricature of a marriage," Cipriani said.

Bruce responded that civil union does not signify either a religious or civil marriage, nor does it refer to the possibility of adopting children, and that he hopes that when the bill is debated and explained it will be much more widely accepted among Peruvian citizens. EFE