Metro Weekly

Switzerland approves law banning anti-gay discrimination

Referendum passed with 63% despite opposition from the country's most popular political party

A Pride flag flies outside Place des Nations in Geneva. – Photo: Rama, via Wikimedia.

Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to make it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.

In late 2018, Switzerland’s Federal Assembly approved expanding the country’s existing nondiscrimination law — which makes it illegal to discriminate or incite hatred against a person based on their race, ethnicity, and religion — to include protections for sexual orientation, including in public accommodations.

The law punishes violations with fines and potentially up to three years in prison.

But opponents of the measure insisted that protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination would violate their freedom of speech and freedom of opinion. They gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue.

Prior to the vote, campaigners had thought the result would be close, and that a “yes” vote had almost no chance of surpassing 60%, BBC News reports.

On Sunday, Swiss voters voted to uphold the law, with 63% of people voting in favor of the measure.

The measure was approved in 23 of the country’s 26 cantons, or states, with only Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Schwyz, and Uri voting to reject the referendum.

Backers of the law had argued that it was necessary because Switzerland lags far behind other European countries when it comes to protecting LGBTQ people and recognizing their rights under the law.

They also argue that the result shows that public opinion is much more supportive of LGBTQ rights than previously thought.

The Swiss People’s Party, a right-wing nationalist party that holds the most seats in the Federal Assembly, opposed the change, arguing that supporters of the measure must show that the law was “not a pretext for handing down politically motivated verdicts and silencing unwelcome opinions and voices,” reports ABC News.

But proponents argued that the law would not stifle public debate, so long as the views being expressed weren’t trying to incite hate or condone discrimination.

Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said that voters, through the referendum “are saying unmistakably that hatred and discrimination have no place in our free Switzerland.”

She added that freedom of expression will continue to be protected, and that courts have generally been “restrained” in applying the country’s nondiscrimination law. She said that “anyone who remains respectful need have no fear of being convicted.”

Already, some parliamentary leaders are pushing for a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

The LGBTQ organization Pink Cross Switzerland praised the result of the referendum, saying it “proves a strong sign of acceptance for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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