An overwhelming majority of voters in Geneva have voted in favour of granting gay and lesbian couples equal inheritance rights and other benefits.

In a referendum yesterday 83% voted in favour of the changes, which were supported by all political parties except the Swiss People’s Party (UDC).

The right-wing UDC caused outrage earlier this month with advertising posters opposing the changes calling gay couples infertile.

The party’s general secretary added to the controversy by telling Leman Bleu TV that gay people contribute nothing to society because they do not have children.

A spokesman denied the UDC is homophobic and the posters were eventually removed.

The referendum result means same-sex couples will be exempt from inheritance tax if or when one of them dies.

The Geneva Canton now has the same laws as the rest of the country.

As the proposal related to a change in the tax regime, a canonical referendum was required.

Switzerland passed legislation to recognise same-sex partnerships in 2004, and it came into effect on January 1st 2007.

Same-sex civil unions, which were approved by a country-wide referendum in 2005, do not grant full marital rights to gay and lesbian couples.

The unions have a similar legal status, but gay couples are barred from adopting children or from receiving IVF treatment.

The referendum was the first time in Europe that the issue of same sex partnerships had been the subject of a plebiscite.

The partnership legislation was passed by the Council of States and the National Council in 2004.