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Same-sex marriage referendum to take place in Switzerland

Citizens will be voting on whether to legalize same-sex marriage this Sunday. If approved, it will be a huge step forward for a nation which has straggled behind its European neighbours.

Update: Swiss voters weighed in. The law was passed to legalise civil marriage and the right to adopt children for same-sex couples by a nearly two-thirds majority. 

In most eastern European countries, same-sex marriage remains illegal.

However, on the western side of the continent, nations have been eager to change their legislation in line with increasingly positive global attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.

Always the leading libertarian, The Netherlands was the first EU country to legalise marriage for same-sex couples, followed most recently by Germany and Austria. Switzerland, meanwhile, is one of the last western European countries that still has a ban on gay marriage.

Swiss law has allowed civil partnerships between same-sex couples since 2007, though this does not provide couples with the same legal rights and protection as official marriage.

This can make life complicated for international couples, those wanting to raise adopted children, or in unfortunate circumstances such as the death of a partner.

Though parliament attempted to approve same-sex marriages and child adoption by gay couples last year, the decision was swiftly challenged by both a large population of nationalists and Christians.

According to the Swiss constitution, a referendum must take place if parliamentary decisions are formally opposed by at least 50,000 people. A widespread, strong opposition toward the new laws has led to a referendum being planned for this Sunday, September 26th.

Should the majority vote in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, it will represent a monumental shift in perspective for a nation which has generally been ambivalent towards equal rights for the LGTBQ community.

In fact, it was reported that local and regional police in Switzerland had kept official registries of homosexual citizens in the country until as late as the 1990s.

University scholars studying the history of homosexuality in Switzerland stated that these private records were commonly used as leverage to convict gay citizens in instances of a legal offence, to deny them rental opportunities, or reject their job applications for roles within the public sector.

So strongly divided are Swiss citizens on the matter of marriage and child-adoptive rights for LGBTQ members, that can be challenging to predict what the outcome of the vote will be.

That said, many are remaining positive that a change in law will go through. This would allow foreign spouses to easily apply for Swiss citizenship, enable same-sex couples to adopt children, and give lesbian couples legal access to sperm donations.

It would also label Italy as the only western European country to have a ban on same-sex marriage.

I’m certainly no expert, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but the change in Swiss law will certainly encourage more conversation surrounding equal rights and opportunities.


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