Gay marriage back on the discussion table in Swiss parliament

A Swiss parliamentary commission is to prepare a study on gay marriage after the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) on Friday failed in its bid to bury the issue.

Gay marriage back on the discussion table in Swiss parliament
Photo: Syda_Productions/Depositphotos
Gay marriage is not legal in Switzerland, though same-sex couples can enter into a civil partnership after the move was approved in a 2005 referendum. 
While many MPs – and, according to a 2015 survey, a majority of the Swiss public – are in favour of marriage equality, hardline conservative MPs have tried to block moves towards it. 
Speaking in parliament SVP MP Yves Nidegger said the word marriage was historically linked to the fact that a couple can procreate, reported news agencies.
“To replace it with the word ‘union’ for people who by definition cannot procreate is not only absurd but dangerous,” he said. 
But the lower house voted 118 to 71 in favour of launching a parliamentary study on the issue, suggested by the Green Liberal party, which will also examine the idea of extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. 
The study will consider the impact of marriage equality on Swiss laws concerning tax, social security, adoption and fertility treatment. 
Any law changes would have to be passed by the public in a referendum, since they would require changes to the Swiss constitution. 
Equal marriage would also have an impact on the naturalization of foreign residents. 
Currently, foreign spouses of Swiss citizens are eligible for facilitated naturalization, an easier process than the longer ‘ordinary’ naturalization process. If equal marriage were law, same-sex spouses and heterosexual civil partners could then be eligible for the facilitated system.
The commission is not obliged to suggest legislation over the issue of adoption rights for homosexual couples, said news agencies. 
Currently gay people in Switzerland are not allowed to adopt. 
At the time some MPs opposing the move said they feared it was a ‘salami’ tactic that could lead to legalizing adoption for single gay people and surrogacy. However a campaign to launch a referendum against the law change failed to get the required number of signatures.
Switzerland lags behind other European countries on the issue of gay rights. 
The country fell three places in the latest Rainbow Europe ranking by LGBTI advocacy group ILGA-Europe, placing 26 out of 49 countries, far behind the UK, France, Spain and Norway. 
Switzerland met just 31 percent of the report’s criteria for equal rights. 

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EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland has not banned ‘gay conversion therapy’

Banned in several other countries across the globe, so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ remains legal in Switzerland.

EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland has not banned ‘gay conversion therapy’

In September 2021, almost two thirds of Swiss voters approved a proposal via referendum to allow same-sex marriage in Switzerland. 

The law will come into effect from mid-2022 onwards. 

READ MORE:UPDATE: Swiss voters say big ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage

Despite this, therapies to “cure” homosexuality remain legal across Switzerland. Similar therapies have been banned in neighbouring Germany and France in recent years. 

While actual instances of this therapy are relatively rare, there have been increasing calls for a ban in recent decades. 

Why is ‘gay conversion therapy’ still legal in Switzerland? 

The answer, as with many questions in Switzerland, comes down to the country’s federal-cantonal system along with conservative voices still maintaining a prominent role in society. 

While several cantons including Basel, Bern and Zurich have indicated a desire to stamp out the practice, bans are difficult at a cantonal level. 

‘Deviance and morality’: The history of the same-sex marriage movement in Switzerland

Basel City has banned the practice, but authorities in Bern and Zurich believe that such bans can only take place at a federal level. 

There is also political opposition to change, particularly among the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which remains Switzerland’s largest and most popular political party. 

David Trachsel, President of the young SVP, said such therapies should remain legal as they were not mandatory and were only made available to those who sought help. 

“Anyone who wants help should be able to get it,” Trachsel told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes. 

Where such therapies were coerced, then Trachsel said bans and further consequences should be implemented. 

“If the person takes part in such therapy due to external pressure, then this must be prosecuted.”

Sarah Wyss, from the Social Democrats, said the therapies were outdated. 

“To describe homosexuality as ‘curable’ is catastrophic.”

Wyss’ National Council colleague, from the Green Liberal Party, agreed with Wyss. 

“I don’t understand what there is to heal. Nobody is treated because they prefer to eat apples than bananas.” 

She did however decline to advocate for a complete ban, saying such therapies should only be banned for minors. 

“Especially in the case of minors, problems with sexual orientation can actually only be attributed to social conflicts.”

Will these therapies be banned in the future? 

As yet, the legal validity of a canton-only ban has not been tested, although Bern and Zurich authorities believe a federal solution is needed. 

The most recent effort to ban the therapies for minors only took place in 2016 federally, although the Swiss Federal Council at the time said it saw “no possibility or need for action specifically aimed at protecting minors from therapies against homosexuality”.

Authorities in Basel City have launched an initiative to have the practice banned, which may result in a federal vote on the matter. 

READ MORE: Same-sex couples can marry from July 1st in Switzerland

According to the initiative, Basel City authorities want conversion therapy to be banned, those who practice it (i.e. therapists and preachers) to face bans and further consequences to be laid out for those who continue to practice it. 

Trachsel said he opposed this plan as it led to a blanket ban on all forms of therapy related to sexuality, which could lead to people being prosecuted despite helping those who asked for assistance.