Recognition of same-sex unions in Switzerland
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage was drafted by the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Council, and was finalized in early 2019. It was sent to the Swiss Parliament for deliberation. A law passed by Parliament can be challenged by opponents in a referendum, if they collect 50,000 valid signatures within 100 days. Opinion polls suggest that the bill has popular support in Switzerland, and a 2019 consultation found large political support. The Swiss Federal Council came out in favor of the proposal in January 2020.
In a nationwide referendum on 5 June 2005, the Swiss people approved by 58% a registered partnership law, granting same-sex couples the same rights and protections as married couples in terms of next of kin status, taxation, social security, insurance, and shared possession of a dwelling. However, same-sex couples would not have the same rights in terms of:
- Full joint adoption of children.
- Access to fertility treatments.
- Facilitated Swiss naturalisation of the foreign partner. Swiss law provides a faster route to citizenship for the spouse of a Swiss citizen, but does not recognise same-sex marriages conducted in foreign countries, instead classing them as registered partnerships.
The official title of the same-sex union is eingetragene Partnerschaft in German, partenariat enregistré in French, unione domestica registrata in Italian and partenadi registrà in Romansh. The bill was passed by the National Council, 111 to 72, on 3 December 2003 and by the Council of States on 3 June 2004, with minor changes. The National Council approved it again on 10 June but the conservative Federal Democratic Union collected signatures to force a referendum. Subsequently, the Swiss people voted 58% in favor of the bill on 5 June 2005. The law came into effect on 1 January 2007. Switzerland was the first nation to pass a same-sex union law by referendum.
Adoption and parenting
Single people, regardless of sexual orientation, may adopt children. A bill legalizing stepchild adoption for same-sex couples was approved by Parliament in spring 2016. Opponents unsuccessfully tried to force a referendum on the bill. The law came into effect on 1 January 2018.
Article 27 of the Registered Partnership Act treats the matter of the partner's child/children. The law states that the partner of the biological/adoptive parent must provide financial support for their partner's child and also possesses the full legal authority to represent the child in every matter as being the parent's partner. It also states that in the case of the dissolution of the partnership, the ex-partner has the right to keep close ties with their ex-partner's child. This article makes Swiss registered partnerships one of the most liberal partnerships, giving the couple a real role in being parents.
In 2010, Swiss LGBT organisations started a petition, "Same Chances For All Families", demanding more adoption rights. On 30 September 2011, the National Council considered the petition but ultimately voted 83–97 against it. However, the debate and close vote provided a view on the MPs' opinions and the evolution of minds, as for example Maja Ingold, MP of the Evangelical People's Party of Switzerland, spoke for more recognition of gay and lesbian parents, while her party campaigned against the Registered Partnership Act back in 2005. It became clear that, while there was no majority for full joint adoption, allowing adoption of the partner's child could gather majority support in Parliament.
The Council of States accepted the petition and the Legal Affairs Committee approved a motion from openly gay MP Claude Janiak (SPS) backing the right to full joint adoption regardless of marital status or sexual orientation. In November 2011, the Committee voted unanimously in favour, including members of the conservative Swiss People's Party. In February 2012, the Federal Council responded by informing the Council of States that they were in favour of stepchild adoption but against full joint adoption rights. On 14 March 2012, the Council of States approved (21–19) the complete full extension of adoption rights for same-sex couples regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.
As the National Council had originally voted against it in September 2011, the bill had to be voted on again by the lower chamber, which did so on 13 December 2012, as the National Council voted 113–64 to grant same-sex couples the right to adopt biological or adopted children that their partner had before the start of their relationship. However, the motion giving full adoption rights approved by the Council of States was rejected by the National Council. On 4 March 2013, the new version approved on 13 December 2012 by the National Council was accepted by the Council of States by a majority of 26–16.
In November 2014, taking into account the parliamentary votes, the Federal Council approved allowing the adoption of the partner's child as part of a larger adoption reform. The bill had to be approved by Parliament, though opponents had already announced they would force an optional referendum. For such a referendum, citizens opposing the law have to gather 50,000 signatures within 100 days.
In January 2016, the Council of States Committee on Legal Affairs voted 7 to 3 with one abstention to approve the proposal to allow stepchild adoption by same-sex couples. On 8 March 2016, the Council of States voted 25-14 in favor of the bill. Furthermore, it would apply to unmarried couples, whether same or different sex, and would also lower the minimum age to adopt from 35 to 28. Member of the Federal Council Simonetta Sommaruga came out in support of the bill and stated that it is necessary to legally protect children already raised by same-sex couples. On 13 May 2016, the National Council's Committee on Legal Affairs voted 15-9 to approve the bill. The following day, the bill was approved by the National Council in a 113-64 vote. Differing texts caused the two chambers to agree on a final, slightly modified version of the bill that was passed in Parliament on 17 June 2016 by a vote of 125-68 with 3 abstentions. Under Swiss law, opponents of a bill passed by Parliament have one hundred days to collect 50,000 valid signatures. If enough signatures are gathered, a referendum will take place otherwise the bill will become law. Following the final vote in Parliament, a referendum committee was established including members of several different political parties with the aim of forcing a referendum on the bill. No major party supported the committee. On 4 October 2016, it was confirmed that the referendum would not take place as only 20,000 signatures had been collected. The law took effect on 1 January 2018.
On 14 March 2016, the National Council approved a bill granting facilitated naturalization to couples in registered partnerships. Currently, a foreigner married to a Swiss citizen is eligible for Swiss citizenship within three years of marriage and five years of residency in the country, although this option is not available to couples in registered partnerships. The bill was approved 122 to 62. On 26 September 2016, the Council of States decided that the bill would be voted on simultaneously to the proposed same-sex marriage bill (see below for details).
At the end of August 2008, the Federal Court decided that long-term same-sex partners were entitled to the same vested benefits from the pension of the deceased as equivalent opposite-sex partners have. A shared apartment is not necessary.
Blessings of Swiss Reformed Churches
Some Swiss Reformed Churches allow the blessing of same-sex registered partnerships. These are the Reformed Church of Aargau, the Reformed Churches of the Canton Bern-Jura-Solothurn, the Evangelical Reformed Church of Graubünden, the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Lucerne, the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of St. Gallen, the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Schaffhausen, the Evangelical Reformed Church of Ticino, the Evangelical Church of the Canton of Thurgau, the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Vaud and the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Zürich.
From November 2012 to July 2017, only 8 same-sex partnerships were blessed in the Vaud Reformed Church.
Several Reformed churches have also begun blessing the marriages of same-sex couples, including the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Zürich. The Swiss Reformed Church as a whole has not taken a formal decision on the matter, though in August 2019 the Church voted to support the opening of civil marriage to same-sex couples.
From 2007 to 2018, 10,226 same-sex partnerships were registered in Switzerland.
|Year||Female couples||Male couples||Total|
Certain Swiss cantonal constitutions recognise and guarantee the right to cohabit and to found a family outside of marriage for both different-sex and same-sex couples; these include among others the constitutions of Vaud, Zürich, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-Stadt, Bern, Geneva, Zug, Schaffhausen, and Fribourg.
The canton of Geneva has had a partnership law on a cantonal level since 2001. It grants unmarried couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, many rights, responsibilities and protections that married couples have. However, it does not allow benefits in taxation, social security, or health insurance premiums (unlike the federal law). The law is based on the French civil solidarity pact. In autumn 2016, the Department of Public Instruction of the Canton of Geneva introduced new forms in schools allowing same-sex parents to be recognized; the previous forms with boxes for "father" and "mother" were replaced with two boxes listing "parents".
On 22 September 2002, the canton of Zürich passed a same-sex partnership law by referendum (62.7% in favor) that goes further than Geneva's law, but requires couples to live together for six months before registering.
Registered partnerships for same-sex couples are included in the Constitution of the canton of Fribourg. In May 2004, voters approved the Constitution with 58.03% in favor and 41.97% against. It took effect on 1 January 2005. Article 14(2) states: "The right to register a partnership for same-sex couples is guaranteed".[a]
On 6 June 2016, the Cantonal Council of Zürich voted by 110–52 to reject a proposal to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman in the Constitution of Zürich. The proposal, put forward by the Federal Democratic Union (EDU), sought to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in the canton, as a means to counter the 2013 marriage initiative. EDU and most members of the Swiss People's Party were in favor of the proposal, while all other parties, including the Christian Democratic People's Party and the Evangelical People's Party, were opposed. The EDU then gathered 6,000 signatures to force a cantonal referendum on the issue. The referendum took place on 27 November 2016, where the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected. 80.9% voted against it, while 19.1% voted in favor. In some parts of the canton, the "No" gained 92% of the votes. All municipalities rejected the proposal.
In 2012, Parliament requested that the executive Swiss Federal Council examine how to update family law to reflect changes in society. In March 2015, the council released its governmental report about marriage and new rights for families, raising the possibility of the introduction of registered partnerships for straight couples and same-sex marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Member of the Federal Council Simonetta Sommaruga, in charge of the Federal Department of Justice and Police, also stated she hoped that gay and lesbian couples would soon be allowed to marry.
Political parties and support
Same-sex marriage is supported by the Green Party, the Conservative Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Liberal Party, the Swiss Party of Labour, FDP.The Liberals, the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP/PDC), and Solidarity. The Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC), the Evangelical People's Party, the Ticino League and the Federal Democratic Union are mostly opposed.
In 2017, CVP president, Gerhard Pfister, said he believed that around two-thirds of CVP lawmakers opposed same-sex marriage. However, a 2019 survey showed that about 83% of CVP candidates running in the October federal election were in favour of same-sex marriage. CVP politicians supportive of same-sex marriage include Andrea Gmür-Schönenberger, member of the National Council for Lucerne, and Ruth Metzler, a former member of the Federal Council. The same survey showed that 48% of SVP candidates were in favour.
In April 2018, the women's wing of the Liberals voted by 56 votes to 2 to support same-sex marriage.
On 26 January 2019, the national Swiss People's Party (SVP) adopted a new party programme. A proposal to strike the party's opposition to same-sex marriage was rejected by the delegates with a vote of 166 to 126.
In June 2019, the governments of Bern, Schaffhausen, St. Gallen and Thurgau expressed support for the opening of marriage to same-sex couples. Schwyz and Obwalden have expressed opposition to the idea, with the latter instead calling for a referendum.
On 15 August 2019, Gottfried Locher, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, declared his personal support for same-sex marriage. In August 2019, the Swiss Reformed Church voted to support the opening of marriage to same-sex couples. This followed a June 2019 statement from the church, "We are created by God. We cannot choose our sexual orientation. We perceive it as an expression of creative fullness."
The Green Liberal Party's parliamentary initiative
On 20 February 2015, the Committee for Legal Affairs of the National Council voted to proceed with the initiative, by 12 votes to 9 with 1 abstention. In May 2015, a petition supporting the bill was launched. The signatures were submitted to the Committee for Legal Affairs of the Council of States before they discussed the bill, hoping to persuade them to support it. On 1 September 2015, the committee voted by 7 votes to 5 to proceed with the initiative.
The National Council's Legal Affairs Committee was then tasked to draft an act within two years (per Article 111 of the Constitution), i.e. by 2017. However, due to the complexity of the legal reform, it proposed on 11 May 2017 to extend the initiative's deadline by another two years (i.e. by 2019) and ask the government administration for further study of the issue. A minority consisting of the Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC) wanted to block the initiative. On 16 June 2017, the National Council voted by 118-71 in favour of the committee's proposal to extend the deadline to 2019.
The Legal Affairs Committee of the National Council met on 17 May 2018, the International Day Against Homophobia, to discuss the legal ramifications of legalising same-sex marriage, such as the necessary amendments to other laws, and to begin drafting a marriage law. The committee recommended that the Swiss Civil Code be amended to remove the heterosexual definition of marriage and that a gender-neutral definition be inserted. It also recommended amendments to the 1953 civil registration law, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Other laws, including laws relating to naturalisation, would also be amended. Additionally, according to the committee and the Justice Ministry, the proposal would automatically legalise joint adoption for married same-sex couples. As such, the committee recommended no changes to adoption law, which allows married couples to adopt without explicitly defining "marriage". On 6 July 2018, the committee voted against rejecting the initiative altogether, by 18-1, and subsequently voted 14-11 in support of the legalisation of same-sex marriage, adoption and facilitated naturalisation. Furthermore, the committee voted by 16-9 to legislate, rather than modify the Constitution. Therefore, the Swiss electorate will not necessarily be called to vote on the initiative (though opponents could still force a referendum on the issue, which would require a simple majority of those voting to succeed). Despite the protests of LGBT groups, the committee decided to leave out assisted reproductive technology for lesbian couples and widow's pension so that the initiative would have a higher chance of approval, and also because legalising sperm donations for lesbian couples would require a constitutional amendment. Those two issues will be discussed in a separate law. In early July 2018, Operation Libero began collecting signatures in favour of same-sex marriage, to persuade Parliament to legalise it, collecting 30,000 signatures within a week.
On 14 February 2019, the National Council's Legal Affairs Committee approved the bill to allow same-sex marriage by 19 to 4, with one abstention. Another bill that would allow access to sperm donations for lesbian couples was narrowly rejected. The proposal was sent out for public consultation, after which the Federal Council will revisit the legislation and will then present it to the Swiss Parliament for approval. The proposal would also end registered partnerships. The committee started the consultation on 14 March, which lasted until 21 June 2019. The consultation showed wide support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage among all political parties, with the exception of the Swiss People's Party. The committee filed a resume of the consultation at the end of August to clarify certain points, such as widow's pension and sperm donations for lesbian couples. It is now up to the Federal Chambers to decide on the text, starting with the National Council.
In January 2020, the Federal Council expressed support for the same-sex marriage bill.
The Christian Democrats' popular initiative "For the couple and the family"
In 2011, the Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP/PDC) began gathering signatures for a popular initiative entitled "For the couple and the family - No to the penalty of marriage" (German: Für Ehe und Familie - gegen die Heiratsstrafe; French: Pour le couple et la famille - Non à la pénalisation du mariage; Italian: Per il matrimonio e la famiglia - No agli svantaggi per le coppie sposate; Romansh: Per la lètg e la famiglia - Na als dischavantatgs per pèrs maridads). This initiative sought to amend article 14 of the Swiss Federal Constitution to equalise fiscal rights and social security benefits between married couples and unmarried cohabiting couples. However, the text would also introduce a definition of marriage for the first time, specifically the "sole union between a man and a woman".
Under Swiss law, cohabiting unmarried couples are entitled to two full pensions. However, the pension of married couples is limited to 150% of the maximum pension per person, meaning that if both partners earn relatively well during their working life, they receive only one and a half times the maximum pension instead of two full pensions.
In November 2012, the gathering of signatures ended and the initiative was submitted. The Swiss Federal Council reviewed the initiative and decided to support it, formally asking Parliament in October 2013 to recommend that voters to approve the initiative. On 10 December 2014, the National Council discussed the initiative. The Greens proposed to amend the bill stating that "any forms of unions" could not be penalised and the Green Liberals proposed to amend the bill so that "marriage and all the other forms of union defined by the law" could not be penalised. The debate was mainly between the Swiss People's Party and the Christian Democrats on one side, and the Green Liberals, the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Conservative Democrats on the other. The Liberals were divided on the issue. The Swiss People's Party and the Christian Democrats stated their opposition to "any form of homophobia". On the other hand, the opposing parties highlighted the discrimination that would be introduced by the initiative and furthermore called for a future definition of marriage that would include same-sex couples. Some MPs called the Christian Democrats a "retrograde" party.
After having rejected both counter-propositions from the Greens and the Green Liberals, the National Council finally approved a suggestion from the Commission for Economic Affairs and Taxation, which retained the spirit of the initiative but removed the definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. This counter-proposition was approved 102–86, thus rejecting the popular initiative and recommending to the Swiss electorate to reject the initiative and accept the counter-proposition.
The Council of States approved the counter-proposition on 4 March 2015, in a 24–19 vote. The debate in the upper house also mainly focused on the definition of marriage which would introduce discrimination towards same-sex couples, though the idea of equal fiscal rights and equal social security benefits between married couples and unmarried cohabiting couples was unopposed. A few Liberal Party members changed their mind, and the counter-proposal was therefore rejected in the Council of States. A subsequent conciliation conference in June 2015 of both chambers of Parliament decided to recommend rejecting the original initiative. On 19 June 2015, the formal order of Parliament recommending voters to reject the initiative was published.
On 17 November 2015, the Federal Council also recommended rejecting the initiative. It had supported the initiative two years earlier, but now was obliged to change its position because Parliament was opposed.
The Christian Democrats' proposal was put to a referendum on 28 February 2016, with voters deciding whether to define marriage as a "durable cohabitation of a man and a woman" that "must not be disadvantaged in comparison of other lifestyles", thus prohibiting same-sex marriage in the Swiss Federal Constitution.
Amongst parliamentary parties, the Christian Democrats (apart from the Young Christian Democrats of Zürich and Geneva, which had declared opposition to the initiative of their parent party), the national-conservative Swiss People's Party and the conservative Evangelical People's Party campaigned for "Yes". Meanwhile, the Social Democrats, the Liberals, the Greens, the Conservative Democrats and the Green Liberals opposed the text and campaigned for "No" along with Amnesty International Switzerland, Economiesuisse, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions and Operation Libero.
A month before the vote, various polls showed 67% support (22 January 2016) and 53% support (17 February 2016).
On 28 February 2016, the initiative was rejected by 50.8% of voters with 1,609,328 in favor and 1,664,217 against, a margin of 54,979 votes. The majority of the cantons approved the initiative (16.5 to 6.5), with the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Bern, Zürich, Grisons, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Appenzell Ausserrhoden rejecting the initiative.
During the referendum campaign, the Swiss Government told voters that about 80,000 married couples were paying more tax than unmarried cohabiting couples, but later admitted that the true figure was almost half a million. The Christian Democratic Party filed a complaint against the result in June 2018, disputing the accuracy of the statistics. On 10 April 2019, the referendum was declared invalid by the Federal Supreme Court, which ordered a re-vote. Days later, it was reported that a majority of the parliamentary bloc of the Christian Democratic Party opposed the initiative in its current form and wanted the definition of marriage to be removed. According to the Tages-Anzeiger, the party now hopes that the Parliament will propose an alternative measure to eliminate the tax discrimination against married couples, so that the party can withdraw its initiative without losing face.
It was subsequently reported that the referendum may not be rerun as the Federal Council now has two options: to set a date for a new referendum, or establish a new law to go through the Federal Parliament. In the latter scenario, the Christian Democrats would have the opportunity to withdraw their initiative, which is the party's preferred option. The vice-president of the party, Charles Juillard, said, "The party is ready to withdraw its initiative if the Federal Council puts an end to the tax penalty of marriage and the discrimination of spouses vis-à-vis l'Assurance-vieillesse et survivants [AVS, Old-age and survivors' insurance]." In early January 2020, the party chose to withdraw its initiative and announced it would begin collecting signatures for a second popular initiative. This initiative would again seek to equalise fiscal rights and equal social security benefits between married couples and unmarried cohabiting couples, but, unlike the previous one, it would not introduce a specific definition of marriage.
According to an Ifop poll conducted in May 2013, 63% of the Swiss public supported allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.
After the Legal Affairs Committee's decision to approve same-sex marriage, two opinion polls released on 22 February 2015 showed support of 54% (Léger Marketing for Blick) and 71% (GfS Zurich for SonntagsZeitung) for allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.
A poll carried out between April and May 2016 showed that 69% of the Swiss population supported same-sex marriage, 25% opposed and 6% were unsure. 94% of Green voters supported its legalization. 59% of voters from the Swiss People's Party and 63% of Christian Democratic voters supported it, respectively.
A poll by Tamedia, conducted on 5 and 6 December 2017, found that 45% of the Swiss population supported both same-sex marriage and adoption, 27% supported only same-sex marriage, 3% supported only same-sex adoption and 24% were against both. The poll thus found a 72% majority in favour of same-sex marriage. Green, Social Democrats and Green Liberal voters were the most supportive: 88% in favour, 9% against and 3% undecided. 76% of Liberal voters supported the legalisation of same-sex marriage, while 22% opposed it. 66% of Christian Democrat voters and 56% of Swiss People's Party voters supported same-sex marriage, respectively.
A Pew Research Center poll, conducted between April and August 2017 and published in May 2018, showed that 75% of Swiss people supported same-sex marriage, 24% were opposed and 1% didn't know or refused to answer. When divided by religion, 89% of religiously unaffiliated people, 80% of non-practicing Christians and 58% of church-attending Christians supported same-sex marriage. Opposition was 16% among 18-34-year-olds.
A public consultation held between March and June 2019 showed wide societal and political support for same-sex marriage in Switzerland. 83% of the participants to the consultation expressed support, and 63% expressed support for sperm donations and access to artificial insemination for lesbian couples.
A February 2020 survey, conducted by the gfs group and requested by Pink Cross, found a 81% majority in favour of same-sex marriage (63% "strongly" supporting and 18% "somewhat" supporting), whereas 18% were opposed (10% "strongly" and 8% "somewhat"). 1% was undecided. By party, 96% of Greens, 92% of Social Democrats and Green Liberals, 77% of Liberals and 67% of Swiss People's Party voters supported same-sex marriage. Adoption was supported by 67% of respondents and sperm donation for lesbian couples by 66%.
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