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Swiss women to get equal name rights

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12:27 CEST+02:00

Swiss lawmakers on Wednesday approved a revision to the country's naming conventions that will give equal status to the surnames of male and female partners upon marriage.

The lower house voted 92 to 65 votes in favour of the "Equality for women’s names" bill, echoing the sentiments of the upper house which has already give the change the green light, NZZ newspaper reported.

Switzerland has taken the steps to update its naming laws after a 1994 verdict from the European Court for Human Rights argued that the existing law, which gave precedence to a husband's family name, ran counter to the principle of equal rights for all.

The new law takes as its starting point the assumption that men and women each keep their surnames for their entire lives.

In future, men and women will be able to either hold onto their given surnames after marriage or choose either one as a common family name. The same rules apply to same-sex registered partnerships.

Couples who keep their own surnames decide upon marriage which name their children will take, but may also change their first child’s name to the other surname within a year of the birth.

Double names such as Meier Müller will no longer be permitted, although the hyphenated alternative remains an option. Joint family names will be passed on to children.

In a heated debate on Wednesday, mainly right-wing political parties called for the status quo to be maintained, especially the rule that the man’s name automatically become the family name.

Yves Nidegger, a Swiss People’s Party (SVP) member from Geneva, argued the new law would allow for à la carte“ family names. He believed the child's identity would be damaged when it no longer inherited the name of its father's family.

Female politicians were clearly in favour of the new naming rights law arguing it allowed for freedom to choose as well as maintaining tradition.

Justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga said she backed the new guidelines.

The revision will be signed into law in June if, as expected, it survives a final vote on Friday.

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