What Does "Marriage for All" in Switzerland Mean?
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
While Switzerland has long been welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community, the country's marriage laws haven't always reflected the same level of inclusiveness. Until recently, same-sex couples in Switzerland were only allowed to enter civil partnerships rather than formally wed.
However, a recent referendum has challenged those laws, meaning that the country will soon be more accommodating to same-sex couples.
This article will explore the process of marriage for all in Switzerland and what the same-sex referendum means for LGBTQ+ rights.
History of LGBTQ+ rights in Switzerland
Consensual, same-sex relationships have been legal in Switzerland since 1942. In 2007, the government introduced a law allowing same-sex couples to enter into legally-recognised civil partnerships, which remained separate from marriages. In addition, Switzerland also ranks highly among other European countries due to its adoption of non-discrimination laws that help protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
For example, the Swiss Constitution was amended in 1999 to add human rights protections for LGBTQ+ people. Most recently, in 2020, Swiss voters backed a new law that criminalises discrimination and hate speech based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The punishment for hate speech attacks or harassment is a jail sentence of up to 3 years.
Despite Switzerland's liberal policies towards the LGBTQ+ community, existing legislation still prevents same-sex couples from entering formal marriages and only gives them the right to register a civil partnership. Current laws also don't allow gay couples to adopt, and partners of Swiss citizens aren't entitled to streamlined naturalisation processes, either.
What does "marriage for all" mean, and what was the process behind the referendum?
For years, many activist groups have campaigned for LGBTQ+ people to have equal marriage rights. Those campaigns have often been met with resistance, as many conservative groups believe marriage should only be honoured between heterosexual couples.
Advocates for marriage equality argue that entering a registered partnership isn't enough to protect LGBTQ+ rights or promote equality because civil partnerships don't allow individuals the same naturalisation, adoption, and reproductive rights. Advocates also note that property and pension laws don't consider same-sex couples or entitle their widows and divorcees to the same rights as married couples.
Rights groups have encouraged legal reforms to address these issues. Still, it wasn't until December 2020 that the Swiss government finally introduced the "Marriage for All" bill to alter the marriage laws.
Lawmakers voted on the bill in the Swiss Parliament in winter 2020. Parliament then pushed the bill through for a public vote, which was set to take place nearly six months later.
The bill had several provisions that would grant more rights to LGBTQ+ couples, such as the option to enter into a formal marriage instead of a registered partnership. Other provisions include the right for same-sex couples to adopt children and allow female couples to access reproductive and family planning services from sperm donation banks.
This new bill was also backed by several LGBTQ+ rights groups and activists, who also supported the Marriage for All Campaign, a social initiative to raise awareness on the new bill.
What was the result of the referendum?
The referendum was held in Switzerland on September 26, 2021, and Swiss voters showed overwhelming support for the bill. Nearly 64% of voters across the country's cantons voted to pass the bill.
The vote made Switzerland the 30th country to legalise same-sex marriages.
Similarly, Swiss citizens abroad also showed overwhelming support for the referendum, as more than 71% approved expanding marriage rights to LGBTQ+ couples.
What was the reaction to the result?
Advocates from the Marriage for All campaign group expressed their approval of the referendum's results. They said the decision to approve the marriage bill was a step in the right direction toward LGBTQ+ equality. They were hopeful the bill would provide same-sex couples with more legal rights and protections than those currently available.
However, not everyone was entirely supportive of the results. Some church leaders and conservative politicians expressed their concern with the new law, noting that it may create more problems of inequality and that providing marriage rights to same-sex couples goes against religious doctrines.
The Swiss People's Party, a right-wing party, and the only one in Parliament to oppose the new bill, took a stance against the legislation and said it could negatively affect fathers and children. The group argued that expanding lesbian couples' access to sperm banks may deprive children of their right to a father, thus, affecting children's wellbeing.
However, advocates counter-argued this claim by stating that children born from sperm banks to lesbian couples will still have the right to inquire about sperm donors once they reach the age of 18, as this is still protected under Swiss law.
What happens next?
The government has since set out plans for the two-stage process to implement the new marriage law. The new law will come into effect in July 2022, after which couples can begin entering into legal, same-sex marriages. Couples married after this date will also receive the same rights as heterosexual couples, such as access to sperm banks for family planning purposes and equal adoption rights.
Same-sex couples who married abroad will be able to have their marriages recognised as early as January 2022.
The new legislation allows couples in registered partnerships to convert their union into a formal marriage or retain their current status. However, after July 2022, civil partnerships will be replaced entirely with legal marriages and will be available to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
For more information and resources on the LGBT+ community, check out our dedicated LGBT+ Rights and Issues section.
Edited by Christophe Locatelli.