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Switzerland will alter its constitution to enshrine marriage and adoption rights for gay couples after voters gave overwhelming support for the change in a nationwide referendum on Sunday.
With 80 per cent of votes counted by mid-afternoon, about 64 per cent of ballots cast favoured equal rights for same-sex couples.
Despite a long and sometimes divisive campaign — at times poisoned by slurs from opponents of the proposal — the results indicate a majority supported the reform in all 26 of Switzerland’s cantons, including the most traditionally socially conservative such as Schwyz, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Ticino.
“Today is a historic day, a milestone for equality, and also one [for me] in my love for my partner, with whom I have been for over 24 years,” said the co-president of the referendum’s “yes” committee, Maria von Känel.
“We see no division between city and country. There is also a consensus between French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland. This is a clear verdict [in favour of] ‘marriage for all’,” said Lukas Golder, chair of pollster gfs.bern.
While Switzerland has for years lagged European peers in extending equal rights to same-sex couples, supporters of Sunday’s vote noted that nowhere else in Europe has seen such a high proportion of its electorate publicly vote in favour of gay marriage and adoption.
The yes vote was endorsed by the Swiss federal government.
Switzerland’s parliament officially voted to grant equal marriage rights to gay couples in December 2020. But opponents used the country’s constitutional system to force the matter to be decided in a public referendum.
The government was initially reluctant to include adoption rights in the referendum proposal, fearful that doing so might jeopardise its chances of success. But gay-rights campaigners insisted otherwise, asserting that a ‘marriage light’ choice was not an option.
The no campaign focused on children’s rights. One particular concern raised frequently was that the proposal would mean that a father who had donated his sperm to a lesbian couple would have no rights to see or know the child, and the child would have no rights to know its father until over the age of 18.
Monika Rüegger, a parliamentarian for the rightwing populist Swiss People’s Party and a spokesperson for the no campaign told the SDA news agency the vote marked a “dark day for children’s welfare”.
Many in Switzerland were nevertheless at times shocked by the campaign imagery the no camp used: one controversial set of posters featured a distressed baby, whose ear was tagged with a label reading “Ordered on . . . Delivered on . ..”
Another featured a close up image of a zombie in the latter stages of decomposition, with the slogan “Children with the Dead,” emblazoned across it.
The convoluted logic behind the claims — ridiculed by many — was that surging demand for sperm as a result of adoption rights for gay people, would mean sperm in storage donated by men who had subsequently died would have to be used.
The yes campaign’s website was even taken offline briefly in August after being subject to a concerted cyber attack. It is still unclear who was responsible for the attack.
Homosexuality was officially decriminalised in Switzerland in 1938, but discriminatory laws for “seduction” were used to prosecute gay people well into the 1970s.
In 2005 58 per cent of voters endorsed civil partnerships for gay couples, giving them the same inheritance and tax benefits as married heterosexual couples.
Adoption rights and access to reproductive medical services were excluded, however.