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EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia

Swiss residents eligible to vote are set to head to the polls in February to vote on a law which criminalises homophobia. This is what you need to know about the vote.

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia

Unlike other forms of discrimination related to race and gender, homophobic discrimination is not criminalised at a federal level in Switzerland. 

The Swiss Government updated the law in December of 2019 to include homophobia under current anti-discrimination statutes, thereby allowing for it to be criminally prosecuted. 

Far-right groups have opposed the move, saying it would serve as a barrier on free speech – gathering the 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum. 

Switzerland will now go to the polls on the 9th of February to vote on the matter – along with another vote on affordable housing. 

READ MORE: Affordable housing: Swiss coalition calls for investment and law reform

READ MORE: Why opposition to cheaper housing is mounting in Switzerland 

Supporters of the criminalisation of homophobia 

Although homosexual relationships are tolerated in much of Switzerland, the country lags behind its neighbours when it comes to affording same-sex groups legal protection. 

The Criminal Codes of France, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, include prohibitions on homophobic actions and words. 

Protesters in Zurich. Image: Fabrice Coffrini

In addition to having no criminal restrictions on homophobia, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Switzerland – a fact which stands out when compared to (most of) its neighbours. 

Advocates of the ban argue that even where relationships are accepted, the failure to recognise them legally in an equal fashion leads to feelings of shame and in some cases self harm and suicide – particularly among younger people. 

Young gay and lesbian people are two to five times more likely attempt suicide than heterosexual people in Switzerland. 

And those opposed?

The major opponent of the new law is the Federal Democratic Union, a hard-right, religious party with little popular support. 

Despite the party securing the 50,000 signatures needed to hold a referendum, it only commands around one percent of the national vote and has less than 3,000 members. 

The FDU have argued that the law restricts freedom of speech and puts people at risk for sanction if the debate issues surrounding same sex relations. 

In an interview published with Swiss website Swissinfo, the FDU distinguished between laws which restricted racism and those which restricted homophobia, saying that those in the latter category were not at risk of genocide. 

READ MORE: Switzerland drops down European gay rights ranking

No homo(phobia)? How do the Swiss feel on same-sex relationships 

Despite widespread liberal attitudes to homosexuality in Switzerland, portions of the electorate remain opposed. 

A poll from January 2020 showed one in ten Swiss consider homosexuality to be immoral, while more than 20 percent of the electorate indicated they were against same-sex marriage. 

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While this may represent a small portion of the electorate, the country is strong on issues of free speech – with the 50,000-strong petition to hold the referendum a clear indication that the outcome is anything from decided.  

Member comments

  1. Worldwide, here’s what the “protect free speech” goons are REALLY saying:

    “Duh, drool, it’s mah ‘right’ to threaten, bully and provoke hatred agin’ anybody’s who different from ME. Duh, especially all them thar preverts.”

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For members


Climate, taxes and Covid: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s June 18th referendums

In the first of the three rounds of referendums scheduled to be held in 2023, the Swiss will weigh in on three issues.

Climate, taxes and Covid: What’s at stake in Switzerland's June 18th referendums

These are the three issues on the June 18th ballot:

Covid-19 Act

This act was voted on, and approved by the majority of the population, in November, 2021, when the pandemic was still on-going. 

Even though the last health measures were lifted more than a year ago, voters will have to decide again on various federal provisions  — especially pertaining to border measures in the event of a pandemic, the protection of vulnerable people, and the promotion and development of treatments for the coronavirus.

According to the government, which is urging the ‘yes’ vote, “it is hard to say with any certainty how [the disease] will develop. The possibility that dangerous variants of the virus will emerge again cannot be ruled out.”

Given this uncertainty, the parliament has extended the period of the Act’s validity until mid-2024.

However, opponents of the measure — organisations called Friends of the Constitution and  Mass-Voll — are opposing the extension of the law, claiming it would allow the government to arbitrarily re-introduce “discriminatory measures” like the Covid certificate

Climate and Innovation Act

The second issue is related to climate, particularly the target of zero greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland by 2050, thanks to the government funding of 2 billion francs over 10 years for the replacement of fossil fuels. 

Switzerland imports around three quarters of its energy, which means that all the mineral oil and natural gas consumed in the country come from abroad.

However, the government argues that “these fossil fuels will not be available indefinitely and they place a heavy burden on the climate. In order to reduce environmental pollution and dependence on other countries, the Federal Council and Parliament want to reduce the consumption of oil and gas. At the same time, the aim is to produce more energy in Switzerland.”

If the voters approve this bill, Switzerland will aim to become climate neutral by 2050, by financially incentivising the replacement of oil, gas, and electric heating by climate-friendly technologies.

The opponents of the law — The Swiss-German Federation of Property Owners and Swiss People’s Party among them — spoke out against the climate law, claiming that if the government’s proposal will be approved, it would cause a massive increase in electricity needs and, consequently, in electricity prices.

READ ALSO: Are the Swiss finally going to get serious on tackling the climate crisis?

Taxation of international companies

Negotiated by nearly 140 countries around the world, the reform of the tax law aims to establish a minimum rate of 15 percent on international corporations — higher than Switzerland’s current tax rate.

However, Switzerland’s has committed itself to comply with this rule.

Even though it would mean Switzerland might lose its edge as a tax-friendly business location, the Federal Council and Parliament want to follow the other countries by implementing this minimum taxation for large international groups of companies (for all other companies, nothing would change).

While the Federal Council is recommending that voters approve this measure, some MPs reject the plan, as most of the revenue would go to just a few cantons, such as Zug and Schwyz,  which offer competitive taxation rates, while other regions will not benefit.

READ ALSO: Why does the canton of Zug have Switzerland’s lowest taxes?