Recognition of same-sex unions in Switzerland

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Legal status of same-sex unions
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Switzerland has allowed registered partnerships for same-sex couples since 1 January 2007, after a 2005 referendum.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage is currently being drafted by the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Council, and it is expected to be finalised by February 2019. It will then be 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.[1]

Registered partnerships[edit]

Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe
  Foreign marriages recognized¹
  Other type of partnership¹
  Unregistered cohabitation¹
  Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples

¹ May include recent laws or court decisions which have created legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but which have not entered into effect yet.
A map of how the Swiss electorate voted in the 2005 registered partnership referendum
  Yes (>60%)
  Yes (50%-59%)

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 civil 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.[2][3] The National Council approved it again on 10 June but the conservative Federal Democratic Union collected signatures to force a referendum.[4][5] Subsequently, the Swiss people voted 58% in favor of the bill on 5 June 2005.[6] The law came into effect on 1 January 2007.[7] Switzerland was the first nation to pass a same-sex union law by referendum.

Adoption and parenting[edit]

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.[8]

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 couple's disband, the ex-partner has the right to keep close ties with their ex-partner's child.[9] 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, the lower house of the federal Parliament, considered the petition but ultimately voted 83–97 against it.[10] 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, who 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 one's partner's child could gather majority support in Parliament.

The Council of States, the upper house (Senate) of the federal Parliament, 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.[11] In February 2012, the Federal Council, the executive, responded by informing the Council of States that they are in favour of stepchild adoption but against full joint adoption rights.[12] 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.[13]

As the National Council refused it during the debate in September 2011, the bill had to be voted again by the lower chamber, which did so on 13 December 2012, as the National Council voted 113–64[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

In November 2014, taking into account the parliamentary votes, the Federal Council approved allowing the adoption of one's partner's child, as part of a larger adoption reform.[17][18] The bill had to be approved by Parliament, though opponents had already announced they would force an optional referendum.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21][22] 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.[23] The following day, the bill was approved by the National Council in a 113-64 vote.[24][25] 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.[26][27] 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.[28][29] On 4 October 2016, it was confirmed that the referendum would not take place as only 20,000 signatures had been collected.[30] The law took effect on 1 January 2018.[8][31]

Facilitated naturalization[edit]

On 14 March 2016, the National Council approved a bill granting facilitated naturalization (which is seen as an easy route to acquire Swiss citizenship) to couples in registered partnerships. Currently, a foreigner married to a Swiss 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.[32] The bill was approved 122 to 62.[33] On 26 September 2016, the Council of States decided that the bill would be voted upon simultaneously to the 2013 same-sex marriage bill (see below for details).[34]

Pension benefits[edit]

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.[35]

Blessing of Swiss Reformed Churches[edit]

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.[36][37][38]

Other Reformed Churches, however, have rejected moves to allow such blessings, including the Reformed Church of the Canton of Neuchâtel and the Evangelical Free Church of Geneva.[39]

From November 2012 to July 2017, only 8 same-sex partnerships were blessed in the Vaud Reformed Church.[40]


The first same-sex partnership was registered on 2 January 2007 in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.[41]

From 2007 to 2017, 9,507 same-sex partnerships were registered in Switzerland.[42]

Federal (per year)[edit]

Year Female couples Male couples Total
2007 573 1431 2004
2008 271 660 931
2009 284 588 872
2010 221 499 720
2011 246 426 672
2012 267 428 695
2013 230 463 693
2014 270 450 720
2015 261 440 701
2016 224 497 721
2017 301 477 778

Cantonal (2007 to 2016)[edit]

Canton[43][44][45] Partnerships Canton Partnerships
Aargau 444 Nidwalden 19
Appenzell Ausserrhoden 34 Obwalden 19
Appenzell Innerrhoden 8 Schaffhausen 63
Basel-Landschaft 303 Schwyz 91
Basel-Stadt 361 Solothurn 191
Bern 937 St. Gallen 281
Fribourg 213 Thurgau 182
Geneva 801 Ticino 209
Glarus 17 Uri 16
Graubünden 86 Valais 172
Jura 39 Vaud 967
Lucerne 286 Zug 109
Neuchâtel 123 Zürich 2,758

Cantonal laws[edit]

"Same-sex partnerships are allowed in Switzerland." Image from a 2016 Lucerne cantonal government publication for refugees.


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,[46] Zürich,[47] Appenzell Ausserrhoden,[48] Basel-Stadt,[49] Bern,[50] Geneva,[51] Zug,[52] Schaffhausen,[53] and Fribourg.[54]

Registered partnerships[edit]

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 origin of the law lies in the French civil solidarity pact law.[55][56][57][58]

In autumn 2016, the Department of Public Instruction of the Canton of Geneva innovated new forms in schools allowing same-sex parents to be fully recognized. Previously, same-sex parents could not be inscribed properly as only a mother and a father could be listed. The new forms include two boxes entitled "parent" and no longer one "father" and another "mother".[59]

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.[60]

In July 2004, the canton of Neuchâtel passed, in a 65–38 vote, a law recognizing unmarried couples.[61][62]

Registered partnerships for same-sex couples are included in the Constitution of the canton of Fribourg.[63] In May 2004, voters approved the new Constitution with 58.03% in favor and 41.97% against.[64] It took effect on 1 January 2005.


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) (the party which initially began collecting signatures to force a referendum on the registered partnership law in 2004), sought to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in the canton, as a means to counter the 2013 marriage initiative.[65][66] 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 against. 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.[67] In some parts of the canton, the "No" gained 92% of the votes.[68] All municipalities rejected the proposal.

Initiative «Schutz der Ehe»
Choice Votes %
Referendum failed No 319,501 80.91
Yes 75,362 19.09
Total votes 394,863 100.00

Same-sex marriage[edit]

In 2012, Parliament requested that the executive Swiss Federal Council examine how to update family law to reflect changes in society.[69] In March 2015, the council released its governmental report about marriage and new rights for families, raising the possibility of the introduction of registered partnership for straight couples and same-sex marriage for gay and lesbian couples.[70] 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.[71]

Political parties[edit]

Same-sex marriage is supported by the Green Party,[72] the Conservative Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Liberal Party, the Swiss Party of Labour,[73] the Christian Social Party of Obwalden,[74] and most politicians from the Liberals.[75] The Swiss People's Party, the Christian Democratic People's Party (CVP/PDC), the Evangelical People's Party, the Ticino League and the Geneva Citizens' Movement are mostly opposed.

In 2017, CVP president, Gerhard Pfister, said he believed that around two-thirds of CVP lawmakers opposed 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.[76]

In April 2018, the women's wing of the Liberals voted by 56 votes to 2 to support same-sex marriage.[77]

Green Liberal Party's parliamentary initiative[edit]

In December 2013, the Green Liberal Party submitted a parliamentary initiative for a constitutional amendment, with the aim of legalising same-sex marriage.[78][79]

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.[80] In May 2015, a petition supporting the bill was launched. The signatures collected 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.[81][82] On 1 September 2015, the upper house's Legal Affairs Committee voted by 7 votes to 5 to proceed with the initiative.[83]

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, the National Council's Legal Affairs Committee 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.[84][85] 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 continue with the initiative.[86][87] As of 2018, the 2013 initiative is still continuing through the slow Swiss legislative process.[88]

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 (German: Zivilgesetzbuch) 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 (German: Zivilstandsverordnung), which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Other laws, including laws relating to naturalisation, would also be amended alongside the 2013 initiative. Additionally, according to the Committee and the Justice Ministry, the 2013 initiative will 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".[89] 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. A draft bill legalising same-sex marriage and opposite-sex registered partnerships will be presented to Parliament by February 2019. 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). Constitutional changes require a double majority (the people and the cantons), and a referendum is mandatory. Despite the protests of LGBT groups,[90] 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 assisted reproductive technology would require a constitutional modification. Those two issues will be discussed in a separate law.[91][92] Same-sex marriage could be legal in Switzerland by 2021.[93] In early July, Operation Libero began collecting signatures in favour of same-sex marriage, to persuade Parliament to legalise it, collecting 30,000 signatures within a week.[90]

The Christian Democrats' popular initiative "For the couple and the family"[edit]

The Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP/PDC) started in 2011 with 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). This initiative sought to change article 14 of the Swiss Federal Constitution and aimed to equalise fiscal rights and equal social security benefits between married couples and unmarried cohabiting couples. However, the text would also introduce in the Constitution for the first time ever a definition of marriage, which would be the sole "union between a man and a woman".[94]

In November 2012, signature gathering ended and the initiative was submitted. The Swiss Federal Council reviewed the initiative and decided to support it. In October 2013, it formally asked Parliament to recommend voters to approve the initiative.[95]

On 10 December 2014, the lower chamber of Parliament 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 such as "the marriage and all the other forms of union defined by the law" could not be penalised.[96]

The debates opposed mainly the Swiss People's Party's MPs and the Christian Democrats to the Green Liberals, the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Conservative Democrats. The Liberals were mostly divided on the issue.[75] The Swiss People Party and the Christian Democrats' MPs opposed any form of homophobia. On the other hand, the main other parties pointed out the discrimination the initiative would introduce and furthermore called on openness for a future definition of marriage including same-sex marriage. Some MPs even called the Christian Democrats a "retrograde" party.[97]

After having rejected both counterpropositions of the Greens and the Green Liberals, the National Council finally approved the counterproposition elaborated by the Commission for Economic Affairs and Taxation keeping the same spirit of the initiative but removing any definition of marriage being solely possible between a man and a woman. The counterproposition was approved 102–86, thus rejecting the popular initiative and recommending to the Swiss electorate that it reject the initiative and accept the counterproposition.[98]

The Council of States (Senate) approved on 4 March 2015, in a 24–19 vote, the counterproposition voted on 10 December 2014 by the lower house, thus rejecting de facto the Christian Democrats' initiative.[99] The debates in the upper house also focused mainly on the marriage's definition that would introduce a discrimination towards the LGBT community, though the idea of equal fiscal rights and equal social security benefits between married couples and unmarried cohabiting couples was unopposed.[100] A few Liberal Party members changed their mind, causing the counterproposal to fail in the Council of State. Subsequently, in June 2015, a conciliation conference between both chambers of Parliament decided to recommend rejecting the original initiative.[101] On 19 June 2015, the formal order of Parliament recommending voters to reject the initiative was published.[102]

On 17 November 2015, the Federal Council also recommended rejecting the initiative. It supported the initiative two years earlier, but now was obliged to change its position because Parliament was opposed.[103][104]

The vote[edit]

The Swiss were called to vote on the Christian Democrats' proposal in a referendum on 28 February 2016.[105] The people had to decide whether to define marriage as a "durable cohabitation of a man and a woman", that "must not be disadvantaged in comparison of other lifestyles",[106] thus making same-sex marriage constitutionally prohibited.

Amongst parliamentary parties, the Christian Democrats (apart from the Young Christian Democrats of Zurich and Geneva, who had declared their opposition to the initiative of their parent party[107][108]), the national-conservative Swiss People's Party and the conservative Evangelical People's Party campaigned for the "Yes". Meanwhile, the Social Democrats, the Liberals, the Greens, the Conservative Democrats and the Green Liberals opposed the text and campaigned for the "No" along with Amnesty International Switzerland, Economiesuisse (Employers' organization), 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).[109]

On 28 February 2016, the initiative was narrowly rejected by 50.8% of voters with 1,609,328 in favor and 1,664,217 against, with only 54,979 votes separating the two camps. Meanwhile, the majority of the cantons largely approved the initiative (16.5 to 6.5). The cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Bern, Zürich, Grisons, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Appenzell Ausserrhoden rejected the initiative.[110] Therefore, the proposal which sought to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman was rejected, leaving the way open for the Green Liberal Party's initiative on the legalization of same-sex marriage that must be debated from now on through parliamentary procedures.

Public opinion[edit]

According to an Ifop poll conducted in May 2013, 63% of the Swiss public supported allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.[111]

After the National Council's Committee of Law Affairs' decision to approve same-sex marriage, two opinion polls released on 22 February 2015 showed a support of 54% (Léger Marketing for Blick[112]) and 71% (GfS Zurich for SonntagsZeitung[113]) 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 Democrat voters supported it, respectively.[114][115]

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.[116] 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.[117]

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.[1] When divided by religion, 89% of religiously unaffiliated people, 80% of non-practicing Christians and 58% of church-attending Christians supported same-sex marriage.[118]

See also[edit]


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