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The long road to same-sex marriage in Switzerland

The long road to same-sex marriage in Switzerland

Since July 1, 2022, same-sex couples in Switzerland have shared the same right to get married as heterosexual couples. The country voted to legalise same-sex marriage in a referendum in September 2021. To celebrate the anniversary of this momentous change in Swiss society, we look back at how activists and advocates spent decades fighting for marriage equality in Switzerland. 

Switzerland one of the last countries in Western Europe to legalise same-sex marriage

In 2021, the referendum on marriage for all passed by 63 percent, with the majority of the public supporting marriage equality in Switzerland. Despite the public support, Switzerland remains one of the last countries in Europe to legalise same-sex marriage. For reference, neighbouring Germany legalised same-sex marriage in 2017 and the United Kingdom did so in 2014.

While not allowed to marry until 2022, same-sex couples in Switzerland have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2007, but couples have been unable to adopt unrelated children until now. With the new marriage equality law, same-sex couples in Switzerland will not only gain the right to get married, but will also be able to start a family by adopting children or seeking IVF and fertility treatments that were previously restricted to heterosexual couples. 

Same-sex marriage proposals were actually drawn up in 1998

Appeals to legalise same-sex marriage did not start with the referendum in 2021; in fact, plans were proposed more than two decades earlier, in 1998. At the time, Swiss politician Ruth Genner (Greens) proposed legalising same-sex marriage for the country and the National Council held discussions on the matter, but interest eventually fizzled out. 

In 2013, Switzerland’s Green Liberal Party tried to get the ball rolling once again, by submitting an initiative on “Marriage for All”, which subsequently spent years being studied and amended by the Swiss government before the idea was finally approved for a referendum in 2021. Conservative, religious and church groups in Switzerland generally protested against the referendum, with the right-wing Federal Democratic Union pushing the slogan, "Yes to marriage and family, no to marriage for everyone".

2021 referendum saw many support the LGBT+ community

The 2021 referendum was launched due to the actions of two groups of activists - those against legalising same-sex marriage, and those in favour. At the time of the vote, the law stated that in order to trigger a referendum on a statute, opponents to that law must collect at least 50.000 signatures against it. 

With this in mind, opponents of same-sex marriage legalisation, such as the Federal Democratic Union and politicians from the Swiss People's Party and the Christian Democratic People's Party, collected more than 60.000 signatures in an attempt to prevent the legalisation of same-sex marriage. On hearing of the campaign against legalising marriage equality, Operation Libero, a trans-partisan liberal movement in Switzerland, began a parallel campaign seeking support for same-sex marriage, eventually collecting more than 100.000 signatures on the issue. 

Eventually, a referendum was held, which saw 1,6 million Swiss people turn out in support of same-sex marriage, with 1,1 million against it. The outcome meant that same-sex couples not only gained the right to marry the same sex, but also gave same-sex couples equal rights to adoption and fertility treatments.

While same-sex marriages could not take place in Switzerland until July 2022, same-sex marriages conducted abroad have been recognised in Switzerland since January of the same year. Despite being comparatively late to legalise same-sex marriage among European nations, Switzerland is still only the 30th country in the world to legalise the practice. 

There are still barriers for same-sex couples seeking religious ceremonies

Though same-sex couples can now get married in Switzerland, there are still many barriers for those seeking a religious ceremony. The Catholic Church openly opposes same-sex marriages, but many homosexual Catholic couples have been able to seek a blessing from church officials and, since August 2020, when the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland voted to allow its priests to perform same-sex marriages in its churches, they have been able to get married in church too.

However, Catholic scholars and authorities in the Vatican have since complicated the matter by ruling that priests cannot bless same-sex marriages and have called for priests to stop such acts.

Protestant couples have also been able to get blessings for their marriages in church too, but in some Swiss cantons, churches have only been willing to bless same-sex civil partnerships, or have even refused to bless same-sex couples’ relationships at all. 

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities voted to support same-sex marriage in a civil setting in 2019, stating that the matter was of "personal freedom and individual autonomy", but also stressed that under Jewish law, same-sex couples could not seek religious marriages. These, taken together, show the struggle that religious same-sex couples still face in Switzerland and abroad, as well as the heartbreaking reality of having to balance their sexual orientation with pressures to “conform” to their religion.

Love conquers all in Switzerland

In an interview about the referendum in 2021, Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said, "Whoever loves each other and wants to get married will be able to do so, regardless of whether it is two men, two women, or a man and a woman." While in comparison to other countries, Switzerland has always been a relatively safe country for same-sex couples and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, the new law demonstrates a concrete development in public opinion, in favour of a more equal society for all.  

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily grew up in the UK before moving abroad to study International Relations and Chinese. She then obtained a Master's degree in International Security and gained an interest in journalism....

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