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Switzerland votes to ban homophobic discrimination

February 9, 2020

Switzerland has voted strongly in favor of banning discrimination against gay men, lesbians and bisexual people. Opponents said a new law could stifle free speech.

 A poster in favor of the change of the penal code is pictured ahead of a referendum on anti-homophobia law in Geneva
Image: Reuters/D. Balibouse

On Sunday, Swiss voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The country's referendum-based direct democracy takes many divisive issues to the populace if enough people demand it.

Read more: Homophobia in Poland still deeply entrenched

Sunday's referendum decided on legislation to specifically outlaw hate speech and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation with jail terms of up to three years. The criminal code currently covers discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion.

About 62% of voters favored the legislation, with most parties backing the bill to protect gay, lesbian and bisexual communities. However, the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) — the strongest party in parliament — opposed the law.

The SVP argued that migrants have imported homophobic views and that social dialogue and expulsion of foreign perpetrators would be more effective.

The change was first passed by Swiss parliament in 2018, but it was forced to a referendum after critics said it would stifle free speech.

What do parties say?

The SVP lawmaker Eric Bertinat told the Agence France-Presse that he believes the law is "part of an LGBT plan to slowly move towards same-sex marriage and medically assisted reproduction" for gay couples.

Marc Frueh, head of the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU), a small Christian party called it a "censorship law."

Read more: German Carnival group won't make lesbians couple of 2020

"This is a historic day," Mathias Reynard, a lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, who initiated the reform, told the broadcaster RTS 1.

"It gives a signal which is magnificent for everyone and for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination," he said.

Green, left-leaning and centrist parties support the law.

What does the law cover?

It outlaws:

  • Publicly denigrating or discriminating against someone for being homosexual or bisexual.
  • Inciting hatred against a gay men, lesbians and bisexual people in text, speech, images or gestures.
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation by operators of restaurants, cinemas and public facilities such as swimming pools.

It does not outlaw:

  • Homophobic comments made in a family setting or among friends.
  • Discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender people.
  • Public debate on discrimination.
  • Jokes about gay men, lesbians or bisexual people.

aw/jlw (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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