Switzerland’s “Marriage for all” referendum

Guest post by Daniel Stolz, Co-President Marriage for all, NETWORK board member, www.ehefueralle.ch

YES to marriage for all

After the introduction of the Same-Sex Partnership Act following a referendum in 2007, and after various smaller but important steps such as stepchild adoption, the next major step towards equality for LGBT* people is imminent: the referendum on the “Marriage for all” proposal.

This proposal is based on a motion by National Councillor Katrin Bärtschy from the Green Liberal Party on 5 December 2013. It has taken seven years for the two chambers of parliament to draw up the proposal, and they did not reach an agreement until the winter session on 18 December 2020. Whereas the National Council (representing the people) agreed by a large majority, only a narrow majority was reached in the Council of States (chamber of the cantons). For a long time, we did not know whether we could win their agreement. The smaller, more conservative cantons are hugely over-represented on the Council of States.

What does the proposal contain? In a nutshell, (almost) the same regulations under the marriage law that has up to now been reserved for heterosexual couples will also apply to lesbian and gay couples. This was also the conscious intention of the legislator and the LGBT organizations. We simply want equality. Our love, our relationships, our “I do, for better or for worse”, are worth just as much as for heterosexual couples. What is the same should be treated equally.

Unfortunately, this principle has not quite been upheld.

Another highly emotional debate in Switzerland concerns how children who are approaching adulthood can be guaranteed the right to information about a sperm donor, or at least their identity.

Sperm banks in Switzerland are now required to inform young adults of the identity of sperm donors. This right is not guaranteed in the case of sperm banks in other countries or in the case of natural conception. Following long discussions, Parliament has therefore decided that for lesbian couples, the wife of the woman carrying the child will also be automatically recognized as an original mother, as long as the sperm came from a sperm bank that is subject to Swiss law. For heterosexual couples, the father is generally recognized as the original father, even if the sperm came from a foreign sperm bank. This disparity should be corrected in the upcoming revision of the parentage laws. However, despite this assurance, this difference is very painful for lesbian couples.

What are the differences between the existing Same-Sex Partnership Act and marriage for all?

In a nutshell, there are four important differences alongside various smaller ones:

  • Naturalization: Foreign registered partners of Swiss nationals currently receive a residence permit or settlement permit. However, they have to go through the normal naturalization process. In the future, as a spouse, they will qualify for the simplified naturalization process.
  • Adoption: All married couples are permitted to adopt under the joint adoption process. Registered partners can only adopt their partner’s biological child (stepchild adoption).
  • Access to sperm donations(primarily applies to female couples): A registered partnership does not provide access to sperm donations. Married female couples would be able to use professional sperm donation services (donations from sperm banks in Switzerland). Both parents will be recognized as the child’s parents from birth.
  • Survivors’ pension (only applies to female couples): Female registered partners currently only receive a widower’s pension when their partner dies. This means they only receive a pension if they have a child under the age of 18. In the future, as a married couple, like all married women they will receive a widow’s pension if they are aged 45 or over when their partner dies.

A referendum has been launched against the law. If at least 50,000 signatures are collected within three months, certain laws can be put to the people. A Yes is then required from the sovereign, i.e. the people.

We therefore hope that 26 September 2021 will be a great day for us.

But a lot of dedication and hard work is necessary in order to have something to celebrate.

Organizing a referendum campaign is no easy task, which is why six organizations have joined forces. Pink Cross (umbrella organization for gay and bisexual men), LOS Swiss lesbian organization, NETWORK Gay Leadership (gay managers), Wybernet (lesbian managers), the umbrella association for rainbow families and a collaboration of LGBTIQ organizations from French-speaking Switzerland.

We are holding a mobilization campaign, as those in favour also need to be encouraged to go and vote, as well as an information campaign to win over those who are tending towards a Yes, but also those tending towards a No. The latter will mainly rely on intensive media work. Reports on LGBT couples with and without children who are there for each other can help to sway people’s preconceptions.

To do all this, we need lots of support. Whether volunteering at events, street campaigns, writing letters to newspapers and talking to people.

However, we also need donations to finance, produce and launch posters, flyers, pins, flags, social media activities, media relations work, mobilization and much more.

Statements from the areas of politics, business and society are, of course, also extremely valuable.

There’s a lot of work to do… we on the committee are ready. Support us!

– Daniel Stolz, Co-President Marriage for all, NETWORK board member, www.ehefueralle.ch