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Referendum approves law that was passed in 2018 but was opposed by rightwing parties.

By Philip Oltermann

 

The Guardian (09.02.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bpkhcc – Swis voters have given their backing in a referendum to extending anti-racism legislation to cover sexual orientation, defying critics who had claimed such a move would be an infringement of free speech.

 

Unlike many of its western European neighbours, Switzerland has no law in force that specifically protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination or hate speech.

 

A law passed by the country’s government in December 2018 was designed to close this loophole. However, an alliance of rightwing parties including the conservative Christian Federal Democratic Union (EDU) and the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) opposed the law change and sought a referendum to prevent it from coming into effect.

 

On flyers and on posters, opponents framed the law as a “gagging clause” that would restrict freedom of speech and demote gay and bisexual members of society to a “weak minority in need of protection”.

 

Switzerland has a long tradition of holding plebiscites on issues that can range from major foreign policy decisions to the building of a new school. Votes are usually held on three to four dates spread across the year.

 

In Sunday’s vote, 63.1% of the public voted in favour of expanding the anti-discrimination law, though the results revealed splits across the linguistically and cultural heterogenous state. In the German-speaking cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Appenzell-Innerrhoden, there were majorities in favour of blocking the law. In French-speaking Vaud, by contrast, the law was endorsed by an emphatic 80% of the voting public.

 

Under the new law, those who “publicly degrade or discriminate” others on the basis of their sexual orientation, for example by denying same-sex couples entry to a nightclub, could face a jail sentence of up to three years. The law does not affect private conversations such as among friends or family.

 

Several European countries such as Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland and the UK already have similar legislation in place.

 

LOS, an advocacy group representing Swiss lesbian, bisexual and queer women, welcomed the referendum result. “We have won, and how! Next stop: same-sex marriage,” it said.

 

Switzerland and Italy are the last two countries in western Europe where gay marriage is not legal. Both countries offer same-sex couples the option of civil unions but not full marriage.

 

In a separate referendum, Swiss voters on Sunday rejected an initiative calling for at least 10% of new housing to be built by not-for-profit cooperatives in an attempt to reduce the cost of living. The proposal was rejected by 57.1% of the voting public.

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