Autor: Jade MacEwan
On the 11th of June, the lower house of the Swiss Parliament, the National Council, voted to approve draft legislation for same-sex marriage and access to sperm donation for women in same-sex partnerships. All parliamentary groups in the House of Representatives argued in favour of the draft legislation for same-sex marriage, although the Christian Democratic Party was against the approval of sperm donation. The bill also provides for joint adoption for same-sex couples. Currently, same-sex marriage is not legal in Switzerland but same-sex couples can legally form a civil partnership, with same-sex marriages conducted abroad being recognised as civil partnerships under Swiss law (Swiss Info, 2020).
Same-sex couples in Switzerland have been waiting a long time for an improvement in their rights. Civil partnerships were legalised thirteen years ago, but protection of gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination was only brought into law in February of this year. The Swiss parliament is typically more conservative than the general public, 80% of whom are in favour of same-sex marriage according to a survey which was carried out by Pink Cross in February (Swiss Info, 2020), but gains made by progressive parties in the October 2019 election mean that parliament has become more open to improving LGBT+ rights in Switzerland (Reuters, 2020).
However, there is still a long way to go before same-sex marriage can be legalised in Switzerland. Now that the bill has been passed by the National Council, it has to move up to the upper house, the Council of States, which also has to vote to approve it. In addition, a right-wing Christian party has stated that it will seek to call a referendum on the bill before it can be passed into law (Swiss Info, 2020).
Switzerland regularly holds referendums on many issues ranging from foreign policy decisions to social issues, with around four referendums regularly being held on an annual basis. The Swiss people are often consulted on important laws and can even initiate changes to the law themselves if they are able to collect enough signatures to propose a referendum. Some view this direct form of democracy as the perfect democratic model, while others have concerns that even in an established democracy such as Switzerland, referendums may be exploited by populists and may lead to controversial political decisions (DW, 2014).
The law against discrimination of gay, lesbian and bisexual people brought into force in February also required a referendum after an alliance of right-wing parties sought this route in an attempt to block the law change. They tried to persuade the electorate that the anti-discrimination law would be an infringement on freedom of speech, and even that it would be harmful to gay and bisexual people by turning them into a “weak minority in need of protection”. In spite of this, 63.1% of the Swiss public voted in favour of the anti-discrimination law (The Guardian, 2020).
As public referendums take place regularly and one party has already stated that it will seek to launch one, it is likely that a referendum on same-sex marriage could be required in the event that the Council of States approves the bill. However, as the Swiss people have already voted in favour of LGBT+ rights this year, and as the Pink Cross survey showed that 80% were in favour of same-sex marriage, with 66% also being in favour of sperm donation for women in same-sex partnerships (Swiss Info, 2020), the signs are hopeful that the Swiss people would vote to approve this bill in the event of a referendum.
Links to resources:
Bondolfi, S. (2020-02-10). Survey shows broad Swiss support for same-sex marriage. Swiss Info. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/lgbt_survey-shows-widespread-swiss-support-for-same-sex-marriage/45549724
Keystone-SDA/ts. (2020-06-11). Swiss parliament pushes forward on same sex-marriage. Swiss Info. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss-parliament-pushes-forward-on-same-sex-marriage/
Oltermann, P. (2020-02-09). Swiss vote to approve legislation to protect LGBTQ+ rights. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/09/swiss-vote-to-approve-legislation-to-protect-lgbtq-rights
Seiffert, J. (2014-05-18). Pros and cons of the Swiss referendum model. DW. https://www.dw.com/en/pros-and-cons-of-the-swiss-referendum-model/a-17643284
Shields, M. & Heavens, A. (2020-06-11). ‘Finally’ say activists as Swiss same-sex marriage bill advances. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-swiss-lgbt-marriage/finally-say-activists-as-swiss-same-sex-marriage-bill-advances-idUKKBN23I1YV?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews