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GAY RIGHTS

Switzerland divided ahead of homophobia referendum

For gay rights campaigner Jean-Pierre Sigrist, the new law being voted on in a referendum in Switzerland on Sunday might have stopped him getting beaten up four decades ago.

Switzerland divided ahead of homophobia referendum
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

“And maybe I would not have been laughed at when I went to the police,” said the 71-year-old, who believes the law will be “an added safeguard against homophobia”.

The new law would widen existing legislation against discrimination or incitement to hatred on ethnic or religious grounds to include sexual orientation.

The change was passed by the Swiss parliament in 2018. But the populist rightwing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU), a small party based on Christian values, are opposed.

Critics of the law, who have forced a public referendum on the issue, believe it will end up censoring free speech.

Eric Bertinat, a UDC local lawmaker in Geneva, told AFP that he believed the law was “part of an LGBT plan to slowly move towards same-sex marriage and medically assisted reproduction” for gay couples.

UDF chief Marc Frueh has called it a “censorship law”. But Sigrist, founder of Switzerland's association of gay teachers, said it would counter growing intolerance.

The retired teacher said he supports freedom of expression, “but not the freedom to say anything at all”.

All of Switzerland's major parties except the UDC, the biggest political force in parliament, support the law.

No to 'special treatment'

Under the new law, homophobic comments made in a family setting or among friends would not be criminalised.

But publicly denigrating or discriminating against someone for being gay or inciting hatred against that person in text, speech, images or gestures, would be banned.

The government has said it will still be possible to have opinionated debates on issues such as same-sex marriage, and the new law does not ban jokes — however off-colour.

“Incitement to hatred needs to reach a certain level of intensity in order to be considered criminal in Switzerland,” Alexandre Curchod, a media lawyer, told AFP.

But he admitted that there could be exceptions “if it can be shown that, under the cover of artistic production or joking, someone is in fact engaging in incitement”.

Gay rights campaigners are divided over the legislation. A group called “No to Special Rights!” is opposed, arguing that the gay community does not need special protection.

“I fight for the acceptance and normalisation of my sexuality. But for me that also means not asking for special treatment,” said Michael Frauchiger, co-head of the group.

Opinion polls show that the Swiss as a whole are broadly in favour of the law, but that the margin between supporters and opponents has narrowed in recent months.

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REFERENDUM

Swiss back ‘Netflix’ law and steer clear of ‘Frontexit’

Swiss voters on Sunday backed making streaming services pay to boost Swiss film-making, and funding the expansion of Europe's Frontex border agency, thereby avoiding another row with Brussels, according to projected results.

Swiss back 'Netflix' law and steer clear of 'Frontexit'

Market researchers GFS Bern, who conducted the main polling throughout the campaign, projected that 58 percent of voters backed the so-called “Lex Netflix”.

They said 72 percent backed Switzerland joining the planned ramping up of Frontex, providing more money and staff to protect the continent’s Schengen open-borders zone.

And 59 percent approved a law change that would automatically register individuals as organ donors after death, unless they opt out.

Under the wealthy Alpine nation’s direct democracy system, voters are called to the polls four times a year to decide on specific topics, according to popular demand.

The polls closed at midday (1000 GMT), with most ballots having already been sent in by post over the past four weeks.

The results are due later Sunday, with each of the Swiss confederation’s 26 cantons reporting their results in turn.

Lex Netflix
The “Lex Netflix” vote approves an amendment to the Film Production Act adopted by parliament last October.

Since 2007, domestic television broadcasters have been obliged to invest four percent of their turnover in Swiss film-making.

The amendment was brought forward to reflect the dramatic shift in how audio-visual content is now consumed, with global streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Blue now making hundreds of millions of dollars in
Switzerland each year.

Streaming services will now have to submit to the four-percent rule.

Swiss cinema production pulls in around 105 million Swiss francs ($106 million, 101 million euros) a year, according to the culture ministry — but could now be in line for an additional 18 million francs.

The platforms will also be required to ensure that European-made films or series make up at least 30 percent of the content available in Switzerland, as in the neighbouring European Union.

Right-leaning opponents had collected enough signatures to take the change to a referendum.

Transplant laws
The vote on changing the organ donation laws will see everyone become a potential donor after death unless they have expressly opted out.

Up to now, transplants were only possible if the donor clearly consented before they died.

The government and parliament wanted to change the law to a “presumed consent” model — as used in a number of other European countries.

Relatives will still have the right of refusal if they suspected that the deceased would not have wanted to be an organ donor.

A group of opponents, backed by the populist and religious right, gathered enough signatures to force a referendum.

At the end of 2021, more than 1,400 patients were awaiting transplant organs in Switzerland, a country of around 8.6 million people. 

But 72 people died last year while on the waiting list, according to the Swisstransplant organisation.

Frontexit averted
Ties between Brussels and Bern have been strained since May 2021 when non-EU Switzerland suddenly decided to end years of discussion towards a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc.

The clear support for Frontex has avoided aggravating the stand-off.

Under Europe’s expansion plan, Frontex will have a permanent contingent of 10,000 border guards and coast guards.

Switzerland will nearly triple its financial contribution to Frontex to 61 million Swiss francs ($61 million, 58 million euros) annually, and increase its personnel contribution from six people to around 40.

Migrant support organisations, backed by left-leaning political parties, collected enough signatures to force a referendum.

The government warned voters that if they rejected the expansion, Switzerland risked automatic exclusion from the Schengen area.

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