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Swiss voters head to the polls to have their say on introducing crucial anti-homophobia laws

Emma Powys Maurice February 9, 2020
Switzerland

A billboard from the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party urging people to reject the proposed anti-discrimination laws (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/ Getty)

Swiss voters headed to the polls today as the conservative country holds a referendum on whether to introduce laws to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination.

Discrimination against race, ethnicity or religion is already illegal in Switzerland, but unlike many of its western European neighbours it does not extend these protections towards sexual orientation.

This ‘legal loophole’ means privately-funded organisations are free to discriminate against LGBT+ people on the basis of religion, as was the case with a daycare centre which recently rejected a same-sex couple and their twin boys.

The proposed legislation has the backing of the government as well as the majority of the Swiss population, with early exit polls suggesting that 62 per cent have voted in favour of the reform.

But there is strong opposition from right-wing and religious groups who argue that it infringes upon their free speech.

“We don’t even know if jokes about gays will be allowed,” Benjamin Fischer of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party told Swiss television.

“Some say yes, some say no they will be punishable. We live in a country with freedom of expression, people should be allowed to think and say what they like, even if it’s a bit stupid or tasteless.”

LGBT+ equality in Switzerland

In 2019 the LGBTQ+ Danger Index gave Switzerland a rating of ‘C’ for LGBT+ travellers, putting it far behind most other Western countries.

Speaking to the BBC,  Anna Rosenwasser of the Swiss Lesbian Organisation said that the referendum highlights the fact that Switzerland still has a long way to go when it comes to equality.

“Many Swiss people tend to overrate how modern our country is,” she said. “It might be rich, but it’s really not modern yet. We have no laws concerning public discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

The new laws will not prosecute anyone for private comments or for religious beliefs, but aim to protect the LGBT+ community from public discrimination and aggression.

Same-sex partnerships are already legal in Switzerland and a bill to legalise same-sex marriage is on its way through parliament.

 

More: Europe, LGBT protections, referendum, Switzerland

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