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Could Switzerland officially recognise a third gender status?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Could Switzerland officially recognise a third gender status?
Swiss singer Nemo, holding a flag of the non-binary community, among their supporters in Zurich. Photo by ARND WIEGMANN / AFP

Legally, there are only two sexes in Switzerland: men and women. But could Nemo’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday change this?

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Nemo identifies as ‘non-binary,’ that is, neither male nor female — the so-called ‘third sex.’

Therefore, non-binary people use the pronoun ‘they’ to identify themselves, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she.’

Nemo said their winning song, "The Code," should send a message that Switzerland, where between dozens and possibly hundreds of thousands people are non-binary — should officially recognise those who don’t feel they belong to either the masculine or the feminine gender.

In a study by the Ipsos institute dated June 2023, Switzerland had the most people declaring themselves non-binary, transgender or gender fluid, among 30 countries analysed. Could the fact that neighbours Austria and Germany already recognise the so-called "third sex" encourage Switzerland to make a similar move?

So will it?

In a report it published at the end of 2022, the Federal Council decided that Switzerland is not ready to register a third gender in the civil status register.

Such a change, the government pointed out at the time, would require numerous adaptations of the Constitution, as well as federal and cantonal laws.

The population may not be quite ready for such a change either.

In May 2023, a survey published by Tamedia, Switzerland’s largest media group, showed that 62 percent of respondents, when asked whether they would approve of adding a “third gender” or “miscellaneous” box in official documents, answered “no.”

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Could Nemo’s victory shift public opinion, along with the government’s stance?

The hopes of the non-binary community lie with Beat Jans, head of the Federal Department of Justice.

Before he was elected to the Federal Council in December 2023, Jans was the head of Basel’s government.

In that role, he launched a number of measures to expand the canton’s equality law to combat sex discrimination, including against non-binary, trans, intersex people, and the LGBTQIA+ community in general.

Jans already said he wants to meet with Nemo and discuss their views of the issues faced by that community in Switzerland.

Whether such a meeting would actually pave the way to statutory changes, however, remains to be seen.

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How do the Swiss feel about non-traditional family models in general?

In September 2021, 64 percent of Swiss voters approved the “marriage for all” legislation, allowing gay and lesbian couples to get legally married.

The law went into effect on July 1st, 2022. 

Several years prior, in 2018, the parliament had extended the scope of Switzerland’s anti-racism laws to include discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As a result, homophobia had become a criminal offence.

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