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Author: Jade MacEwan
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After working on a marriage equality bill for the past seven years, Switzerland has finally brought the legalisation of marriage for same-sex couples to the vote. Registered partnerships have been legal for same-sex couples in Switzerland since 2007, but it has taken the Swiss parliament until now to work out the details of a marriage equality bill. The Swiss parliament recently decided that it was not necessary to change the Swiss constitution if the bill is passed, as the constitution states that “the right to marry and to have a family is guaranteed”, wording which is already inclusive (Pink News, 2020).

The marriage equality bill was passed by the upper chamber of the Swiss Parliament, the Council of States on 1 December, and by the lower chamber, the National Council, on 9 December. The bill was first introduced in 2013 by the Swiss Green Liberal Party, but votes on the bill have been delayed a number of times, and the part of the bill covering access to sperm donations for women in same-sex relationships was only finally agreed on 9 December. ILGA-Europe Advocacy Director Katrin Hugendubel stated that this is good news, but there is still work to do to protect all children in rainbow families in addition to this bill (Washington Blade, 2020).

The bill was finally approved by the Federal Assembly on 18 December. However, this does not yet mean that the bill can become law. An ultra-conservative Christian party, the Federal Democratic Union Party, has stated its intention to request that the new legislation be put to a public referendum. The deputy president of Komitee Ehe Für Alle, or the Committee for Marriage for All, said that “if the opponents launch a referendum, we’re ready. We have 82 percent of the population behind us and, thanks to the mobilisation of the LGBT community, our partner organisations and the political parties who support us, we will be able to further increase acceptance of LGBT people in society”. (The Local CH).

Referendums are held regularly in Switzerland, which is run as a “direct” democracy, allowing voters to have their say on decisions made by parliament. There are three instruments of direct democracy, which are the mandatory referendum, the optional referendum and the popular initiative. If an amendment is proposed to the constitution, a referendum must be held. As the wording of the constitution is already inclusive, a mandatory referendum is not necessary in the case of the marriage equality legislation. However, once legislation has been passed by parliament, citizens are entitled to call for a referendum to be held on the new law. In order for this type of referendum to be held, either eight cantons must request it, or 50,000 signatures must be collected within 100 days. If an optional referendum is held, the law is then passed or rejected by a simple majority (World Economic Forum, 2017).

Additionally, under Swiss law, any Swiss citizen eligible to vote may propose a referendum on an issue using a popular initiative, whereby the initiative committee needs to collect 100,000 valid signatures in favour of a referendum within 18 months. The initiative to hold a referendum can then either be approved or rejected by a parliamentary majority (World Economic Forum, 2017).

While the Federal Democratic Union Party may be able to demand that a referendum is held if it collects enough signatures, it is unlikely that the Swiss people will choose to vote against the new marriage equality bill becoming law. In addition to 82% of Swiss people declaring themselves to be in favour of same-sex marriage in a survey carried out by LGBT+ group Pink Cross, 72% support adoption and 70% support sperm donation for couples in same-sex relationships. This shows that Switzerland is ready for real equality and that the Swiss want equal rights for LGBT+ people (Gay Star News, 2020).

Links to resources

AFP. (December 18, 2020). Swiss parliament approves same-sex marriage. The Local CH.

Lucchi, M. (July 31, 2017). This is how Switzerland’s direct democracy works. World Economic Forum.

Reid-Smith, T. (November 9, 2020). Swiss support for same-sex marriage soars to 82% ahead of parliamentary debates. Gay Star News.

Van Slooten, P. (December 16, 2020). Final vote on Switzerland ‘Marriage for All’ bill to take place Friday. Washington Blade.

Wakefield, L. (December 10, 2020). After seven years, Switzerland is finally ready to vote on legalising same-sex marriage. Pink News.

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