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Two people campaign for marriage equality in Switzerland by dressing up in wedding attire
Swiss voters decide on marriage equality on SundayImage: Glories Francois/Abaca/picture alliance

Switzerland’s same-sex marriage referendum explained

Beatrice Christofaro
September 25, 2021

The Swiss parliament had already passed marriage equality, but conservative politicians wanted citizens to vote on it.


Switzerland is one of the last nations in Western Europe to ban same-sex marriage.

That could change on Sundaywhen voters decide if they should extend gay and lesbian couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. 

The Swiss parliament alreadylegalized marriage for all last December, but a group of conservative Christian parties pushed for the decision to be revised in a referendum. Opinion polls suggest the decision is set to pass, but the race is getting closer. 

What exactly would same-sex marriage change?

Same-sex couples in Switzerland have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2007. That gives them the same tax benefits as married people, for example, but withholds other rights from them.

With the right to marry, same-sex couples would be able to adopt children that are not of either spouse. Lesbian partners would be allowed to use a sperm donor in Switzerland, and both be recognized as mothers of the child. It would also make it easier for foreign residents to become citizens if they were married to their Swiss partners. 

"I think it would be a step toward modernity," Matthias Erhardt, a Geneva City Council member, told the Associated Press news agency. "For us LGB people — lesbians, gays and bisexuals — it’s our entire life, our life plan, that’s at stake."

Many same-sex couples also oppose civil unions because it forces them to disclose their sexual orientation any time they have to specify their marital status, for example, when job or apartment hunting. 

Protesters carry a rainbow flag that reads, 'Yes, I do!'
Thousands marched in support for the 'Marriage for All' referendumImage: Glories Francois/Abaca/picture alliance

Why is the decision up for a referendum?

Representatives from right-wing parties like the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland and the Swiss People's Party, among others, opposed the parliamentary decision to legalize marriage for all. They raised the necessary signatures, at least 50,000, to have it revised by a referendum. 

Much of the debate revolves around LGBTQ couples' right to raise children. The committee and its supporters claim marriage equality will eliminate the father role from families. 

"If the law is adopted, we are going to introduce into Swiss civil law a new institution — that of the child without a father," Yves Nidegger from the Swiss People’s Party told AP. 

"Two women or two men who want to conceive a child, even if they love each other very, very, very much, that’s just not the way children are created."

Opposers of same-sex marriage have campaigned with graphic posters accusing same-sex couples of wanting "children on demand." Cryptic billboards depicting a zombie falsely insinuated that sperm donors used by lesbian couples could already be dead.

The ad even shocked some people on the same campaign and the city of Geneva refused to show it.

A billboard shows a zombie and reads in French 'Children with a dead person: No to marriage for all'
The campaign made false insinuations and even shocked people who opposed marriage equalityImage: Laurent Gillieron/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

What about the rest of Europe?

Granting marriage equality would put Switzerland on par with most Western European countries.

The Netherlands first granted marriage equality in 2001. In Europe, the following countries followed suit: Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, France, England, Scotland, Luxemburg, Ireland and Malta. 

Germany and Austria were among the last, legalizing gay marriage in 2017 and 2019, respectively. 

If the referendum passes, Switzerland will be the 30th country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. 

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