Swiss voters approve ban on anti-gay discrimination

Swiss voters approved a referendum to ban anti-gay discrimination, reaffirming an antidiscrimination law approved by the Swiss Federal Assembly in 2018.
Image: People walk past a poster demanding protection from hate speech in Zurich
People walk past a poster demanding protection from hate speech ahead of an upcoming vote in Zurich, Switzerland, on February 5, 2020. The poster reads: "Yes to protection from hatred for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on February 9."Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters
By Tim Fitzsimons

Swiss voters on Sunday approved a referendum to ban anti-gay discrimination in a landslide, 63 percent to 37 percent, reaffirming an antidiscrimination law approved by the Swiss Federal Assembly in 2018.

The reaffirmed law makes it illegal to publicly denigrate, discriminate or stir up hatred based on a person's sexual orientation. The 2018 bill was an expansion of a law passed in 1995 that banned denigration, discrimination and hate speech on the basis of race and religion with potential fines and prison sentences for violations. The new law does not ban gender identity discrimination.

Only three of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, or states, had majorities vote against the public referendum on Sunday, which was forced after opponents of the 2018 antidiscrimination law gathered enough signatures to force a public vote on the issue.

“After the clear ‘Yes,’ the LGBTI community will use this momentum to push for the equal application of the law and enforce marriage equality for everyone,” Pink Cross, a Swiss advocacy group said in a statement posted in German. Same-sex civil unions have been legal in Switzerland since 2007, and a bill to legalize same-sex marriage for all is pending in the Swiss Pariament and could see passage this year.

Pink Cross also called for better recording of hate crime statistics, and for an overhaul of what it called the “bureaucratic effort” required to change gender on official documents for transgender and intersex Swiss people — “the part of the LGBTI community that cannot benefit from today's yes,” the group wrote.

The BBC reported that some of the country’s right-wing political parties and evangelical Christian groups opposed the measure. The country’s largest parliamentary party, the far-right Swiss People’s Party, opposed the antidiscrimination law, saying it would silence “unwelcome opinions and voices.”

Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter, a member of the seven-person Federal Council that serves as Switzerland’s executive branch, said voters “are saying unmistakably that hatred and discrimination have no place in our free Switzerland.”

“Freedom of expression remains guaranteed,” she said, noting that courts have been “restrained” in their application of the existing law and “anyone who remains respectful need have no fear of being convicted.”

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The Associated Press contributed.