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Switzerland announces same-sex marriage referendum after bigots force vote

Josh Milton April 28, 2021
Switzerland same-sex marriage

In a fresh test for Switzerland, which has long lagged on LGBT+ rights, a referendum on marriage equality will now be held. (Stock photograph via Elements Envato)

Voters in Switzerland will get their say on same-sex marriage with a referendum that’s the upshot of nearly eight years of debate.

The Federal Chancellery confirmed Tuesday (27 April) that more than 61,000 marriage equality opponents have signed calling for a referendum, all but paving the way for the vote to be held.

In Switzerland’s direct democracy system, opponents of decisions made by parliament can force a referendum if they collect 50,000 signatures within 100 days.

A date for the referendum will be set in May and will take place in September at the earliest, a spokesperson for the administrative office told Reuters.

Majority of people in Switzerland support same-sex marriage, says poll

It’s a showdown for marriage equality that has been years in the making for Switzerland, one of the few remaining European countries where same-sex marriage is not legal.

The bill was first introduced by the Green Party in 2013. Since then, lawmakers have grappled with whether enshrining marriage equality into law would mean amending the country’s constitution.

Ultimately, the council of states – the upper house of parliament – agreed that no change is needed as the constitution is already inclusive. “The right to marry and to have a family is guaranteed,” the constitution says.

After years of dragged out debate, the Swiss parliament, the Federal Assembly, approved a bill legalising same-sex marriage last year.

And in another landmark change, the legislation would also provide queer women with access to sperm donation.

But the Federal Democratic Union, a Christian party, and the far-right Swiss People’s Party threw one final roadblock – demanding the bill be put up to a public vote.

The Swiss People’s Party said it was “intolerable to want to place marriage on an equal footing with any form of cohabitation”.

Activists quickly rolled up their sleeves at the threat, and now comes a referendum that will be a test for a country that, as much as it is one of Europe’s most progressive, often lags behind on LGBT+ rights.

The first law banning LGBT+ discrimination passed as recently as February 2020.

While the referendum request drew tens of thousands of signatories, in a country of 8.5 million, an overwhelming 82 per cent of people in Switzerland support same-sex marriage, according to a study from LGBT+ group Pink Cross.

 

More: same sex marriage, Switzerland

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