Same-sex marriage in Switzerland faces another delay

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Switzerland’s Council of States has delayed moves to legalize same-sex marriage.

The issue has been before the Swiss parliament, the Federal Assembly, for around a decade. But in June there was a big step forward when the National Council, the lower house of parliament, approved equal marriage by a big majority.

The bill then moved to the Council of States, the upper house. But this week it’s Legal Commission decided to postpone the vote. It says it needs further clarification ‘on the constitutionality of the bill’.

LGBT+ campaigners in Switzerland, who have united under a Marriage for All consortium, say they are disappointed with the postponement.

However, in a statement they added they remained confident the commission would eventually advocate full equality.

Switzerland has offered same-sex couples civil partnerships since January 2007. The partnerships offer similar, but not exactly equal, rights.

In particular, they do not cover joint adoption by same-sex couples or access to IVF for lesbians.

The new bill will therefore not only help same-sex couples who wish to marry but also support rainbow families.

Challenges in the Council of States and a possible referendum

Salome Zimmerman, president of the Marriage for All committee, said:

‘Switzerland is used to long political trials, but in the case of marriage for all, the patience of the people affected is particularly tested.

‘This renewed postponement increases the legal uncertainty for many families. It has been proven that children in rainbow families grow up just as happy.’

Zimmermann also said the group expects the Swiss parliament will include LGBT+ community in the ongoing conversations.

When the bill finally gets a vote in the Council of States, the outcome is not certain.

Many think it may face a tougher test than in the National Council.

However the main opponents, the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) only holds six of the 46 seats in the Council of States.

Moreover, Switzerland has a direct democracy. So if opponents gather 50,000 voter signatures in 100 days, they can challenge new laws via a referendum. It is not clear if the SVP will try to rally this kind or referendum.

Swiss people support marriage equality

Indeed, even if they do organize a referendum, marriage equality is likely to win through.

LGBT+ campaign organization Pink Cross commissioned a survey in February this year on the issue. The independent gfs group found 81% support same-sex marriage with 63% saying they strongly support it.

That’s against only 18% opposing marriage equality with just 10% strongly opposed.

Moreover, a majority of voters for all major parties are in favor. This includes an incredible 96% of Greens. But even among the more socially conservative SVP voters, 67% back marriage equality.

Even religious groups in the country support the change. The Swiss Reformed Church backed marriage equality last year and some churches conduct same-sex blessings.

And a 2016 referendum rejected a proposal which would have banned same-sex marriage by stealth.

Meanwhile Switzerland passed an anti-homophobia law in a referendum in February this year. The vote passed easily with 63% in favor and just 37% against. Indeed, of Switzerland’s 26 cantons – or states – only three had majorities against it.

Zimmermann said ‘the experts and the Swiss people are on our side’. And she added that support ‘is growing every day’.

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