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EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia
Photo: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE / DPA / AFP
Swiss residents eligible to vote are set to head to the polls in February to vote on a law which criminalises homophobia. This is what you need to know about the vote.

Unlike other forms of discrimination related to race and gender, homophobic discrimination is not criminalised at a federal level in Switzerland. 

The Swiss Government updated the law in December of 2019 to include homophobia under current anti-discrimination statutes, thereby allowing for it to be criminally prosecuted. 

Far-right groups have opposed the move, saying it would serve as a barrier on free speech – gathering the 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum. 

Switzerland will now go to the polls on the 9th of February to vote on the matter – along with another vote on affordable housing. 

READ MORE: Affordable housing: Swiss coalition calls for investment and law reform

READ MORE: Why opposition to cheaper housing is mounting in Switzerland 

Supporters of the criminalisation of homophobia 

Although homosexual relationships are tolerated in much of Switzerland, the country lags behind its neighbours when it comes to affording same-sex groups legal protection. 

The Criminal Codes of France, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, include prohibitions on homophobic actions and words. 

Protesters in Zurich. Image: Fabrice Coffrini

In addition to having no criminal restrictions on homophobia, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Switzerland – a fact which stands out when compared to (most of) its neighbours. 

Advocates of the ban argue that even where relationships are accepted, the failure to recognise them legally in an equal fashion leads to feelings of shame and in some cases self harm and suicide – particularly among younger people. 

Young gay and lesbian people are two to five times more likely attempt suicide than heterosexual people in Switzerland. 

And those opposed?

The major opponent of the new law is the Federal Democratic Union, a hard-right, religious party with little popular support. 

Despite the party securing the 50,000 signatures needed to hold a referendum, it only commands around one percent of the national vote and has less than 3,000 members. 

The FDU have argued that the law restricts freedom of speech and puts people at risk for sanction if the debate issues surrounding same sex relations. 

In an interview published with Swiss website Swissinfo, the FDU distinguished between laws which restricted racism and those which restricted homophobia, saying that those in the latter category were not at risk of genocide. 

READ MORE: Switzerland drops down European gay rights ranking

No homo(phobia)? How do the Swiss feel on same-sex relationships 

Despite widespread liberal attitudes to homosexuality in Switzerland, portions of the electorate remain opposed. 

A poll from January 2020 showed one in ten Swiss consider homosexuality to be immoral, while more than 20 percent of the electorate indicated they were against same-sex marriage. 

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While this may represent a small portion of the electorate, the country is strong on issues of free speech – with the 50,000-strong petition to hold the referendum a clear indication that the outcome is anything from decided.  


Member comments

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  1. Worldwide, here’s what the “protect free speech” goons are REALLY saying:

    “Duh, drool, it’s mah ‘right’ to threaten, bully and provoke hatred agin’ anybody’s who different from ME. Duh, especially all them thar preverts.”

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