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EXPLAINED: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s September referendum?

EXPLAINED:  What's at stake in Switzerland's September referendum?
Switzerland will vote on same-sex marriage this September. Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash
On September 26th, voters in Switzerland will weigh in on two controversial issues. This is what’s at stake.

In the third round of national voting so far this year (the fourth one is scheduled for November 28th), Swiss voters will decide on the outcome of two contentious issues: ‘Equal Marriage for All’ and ‘Reduce tax on salaries, tax capital fairly’.

Same-sex marriage

At present, same-sex marriage is forbidden in Switzerland, with only civil partnerships allowed. 

While those in a registered partnership have many of the same rights as same-sex marriages, including the right to the partner’s inheritance and pension, they can’t adopt a child together or have access to sperm donations.

In December 2020, the parliament passed a bill which would give same-sex couples the same rights and obligations under the law as those extended to same-sex marriages.

READ MORE: Broad support for same-sex marriage ahead of referendum

As the Federal Council explains it, “Under the amended law, same-sex couples would be able to have a civil wedding and would be placed on an equal footing with other married couples both institutionally and legally. The foreign husband of a Swiss man and the foreign wife of a Swiss woman would be able to apply for simplified naturalisation, for example. Same-sex couples would also be able to adopt a child together. In addition, married female couples would have access to legally regulated sperm donation. Registered partnerships could be converted into a marriage, but no longer entered into anew”.

In supporting the Federal Council’s case, Justice Minister Keller-Sutter said that “the state should not dictate to people how they have to organise their private and family life.”

READ MORE: Swiss government indicates support for same-sex marriage as referendum date set

However, opponents —mainly the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and conservative Christian groups — collected 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum.

They argue that “marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Calling into question this founding principle of the family, the basic unit of our society, is a real revolution; it is to touch the Christian foundations of our civilisation, but also and above all the natural order”.

‘Marriage for All’ can only become law if the referendum is rejected by the voters on September 26th.

Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

‘Reduce tax on salaries, tax capital fairly’

This popular initiative, also called ‘The 99-percent initiative’ was launched by the Socialist Youth group, which seeks to force wealthy people to pay 150 percent more tax on their capital income and redistribute this money to the rest of the population.

The 99-percent refers to the population at large, while the remaining 1 percent are the super-rich who, according to the youth arm of the socialist party, derive all their income from their financial assets and don’t share enough of it with others.

Such a system would bring in an additional five to ten billion francs to Swiss government coffers, says the youth party, which could allow the government to reduce taxes for those on low or middle incomes, or offer them other benefits such as exemption from health insurance premiums or free childcare. 

Business and economic circles, along with most parties, urge voters to reject the initiative, as does the government.

“Today, in principle, all income such as wages, pensions and capital income is taxed in full”, the Federal Council said.

“These income taxes help to mitigate inequalities in the distribution of income within the population. People with high incomes therefore pay more in percentage terms than those with low incomes. In addition to taxes, there are other instruments for redistribution. Most redistribution takes place through social benefits such as pensions or social assistance”, it added.

READ MORE: Are you being underpaid in Switzerland? Here’s how to find out


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