Voters in Switzerland have rejected a referendum initiative that would have changed the constitution and banned same-sex couples from marriage.

The country, which regularly puts key legislation before the electorate, voted by 50.8% to 49.2% on Sunday, to reject the proposal – put forward by the Christian Democratic People’s Party.

Although marriage equality has yet to arrive in the Alpine nation, the change would have meant hopes of it coming in the future would have been greatly diminished.

The initiative known as, “for the couple and the family – no to the penalty of marriage”, was portrayed to voters as a way of ending fiscal inequality for married couples by reforming tax and would have changed article 14 in the Swiss constitution to redefine the gender neutral definition.

“This initiative was anti-LGBTI sentiment masquerading as tax reform and the Swiss public saw through the proposal and said they didn’t want to be part of it,” said Joyce Hamilton of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board.

Opponents were quick to point out that if the ballot was passed it would have simply replaced one form of discrimination with another.

Ms Hamilton added that the run up to the vote was “a stressful time” for LGBT activists in the country.

She said: “Their campaign helped voters to understand the issues at stake, illustrated that it wasn’t all about taxes and warned people of the inequality they could be voting for unintentionally”.

Registered partnerships have been recognised in Switzerland since 2007.

The nation also allows gay men and women to serve openly in the military, protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and equalised the age of consent for gay couples in a 1992 referendum.

Same sex sexual activity has been legal in some parts of Switzerland since 1798, when the law was changed to correspond with the Napoleonic Code.

Last year, the country’s Supreme Court refused to recognise a gay couple as the fathers of their children.