Swiss voters say big 'yes' to same-sex marriage

·3-min read

Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters backed the government's plan to introduce same-sex marriage in a referendum held Sunday, with campaigners calling it a historic day for gay rights in Switzerland.

With results in from 20 of the wealthy Alpine nation's 23 cantons, 64 percent of voters backed the move, on a 52 percent turnout.

Switzerland was one of the last countries in western Europe where same-sex marriage remained illegal.

The government's "marriage for all" proposals were challenged by opponents, who successfully triggered a referendum.

"The Swiss have dropped a massive 'yes' into the ballot box," Olga Baranova, a spokeswoman for the "yes" committee, told AFP.

She was at a restaurant in the Swiss capital Bern hosting the "yes" campaign's celebrations -- decked out in balloons in the rainbow colours -- where drag artist Mona Gamie sang Edith Piaf's "Hymn to Love" to rapturous applause.

"Today does not change my country," Baranova said.

"Today reflects the change of mentality over the last 20 years. It is really the reflection of a very broad and very important acceptance of LGBT people in society."

- Lengthy battle -

Switzerland decriminalised homosexuality in 1942, but numerous local and regional police forces continued to keep "gay registers", some into the early 1990s.

Same-sex couples can already register a civil partnership, with around 700 established each year.

However, this status does not provide the same rights as marriage, including for obtaining citizenship and the joint adoption of children.

After years of debate and discussion, the Swiss parliament approved a bill last December allowing same-sex couples to marry in the country of 8.6 million people.

But it was challenged under Switzerland's direct democracy system, with opponents gathering the 50,000 signatures needed to put the issue to a referendum.

Deborah Heanni, a member of the Libero collective which campaigned for "yes", told AFP: "After eight years of campaigning, we are happy finally to be able to celebrate this victory."

Jan Muller of the "yes" committee said: "It is a historic day for Switzerland, a historic day when it comes to equality for same-sex couples, and it is also an important day for the whole LGBT community."

The law change will allow same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies and provide them with the same rights as those enjoyed by other married couples.

Foreign spouses will become eligible to apply for citizenship through a simplified procedure, and same-sex couples will be permitted to jointly adopt.

And, in what proved the most controversial aspect of the referendum campaign, lesbian couples will have access to sperm donations.

- 'Babies on demand' -

The right-wing populist Swiss People's Party (SVP) -- Switzerland's largest political party -- called for a "no" vote.

Opponents plastered Swiss cities with stark posters decrying the commodification of children and warning the law will "kill the father".

One poster showed a crying baby with its ear tagged like cattle, and the question: "Babies on demand?"

Another featured a huge zombie-like head meant to represent a dead father.

"Everyone will be disappointed," Yohan Ziehli, vice president of the SVP in the French-speaking Vaud canton in western Switzerland.

"Parliament made the tactical choice to link two subjects that should not have been, namely the question of parentage which has been hidden behind the shield of marriage for all in order to guarantee its success," he told broadcaster RTS.

A second vote was held alongside the referendum, on an initiative brought forward by the youth wing of the Socialist Party, titled "Reduce taxes on wages, tax capital equitably".

Proponents of the so-called "99 percent" initiative wanted greater taxation on high levels of capital income, with the revenues generated used to reduce income taxes for the less well off.

Results so far showed that 65 percent voted against the measure.

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