Switzerland is voting on same-sex marriage on September 26th
Here's why you should care.
On the 18th of December 2020, Switzerland’s parliament voted in favour of the “Marriage For all” bill, finally legalizing same-sex marriages across the country. However, under the rules of Switzerland’s direct democracy, any citizen can challenge a law if they succeed in obtaining 50,000 signatures within 100 days. Switzerland’s right-wing, socially conservative UDC (Union Democratique du Centre, Switzerland’s right-wing party) has done so and hence the bill was forced into referendum.
Our school has a vibrant and visible LGBTQ+ community, something which we should be proud of. However, as a member of the Student Council, I have heard from students who do not feel comfortable with their identity, who fear rejection from their loved ones, and students who are unsure of their future. We have a responsibility to show that we are a welcoming school that really does celebrate diversity- we owe the community that. During Pride Month last June, we were so impressed with the levels of participation in our activities. Undoubtedly there has been incredible progress in the past 3 years. Sadly, this is not enough and acceptance cannot just be limited to art competitions and face paint.
Switzerland is not as tolerant as one may think. Last February, in the referendum against homophobic hate crimes, 40% of the population voted against the bill. Political parties, for example the typically center-right PDC (Parti Democratique Christienne) in Valais, have voted against the bill. There is a real danger that the project might actually fail. This is where we come in. As cliché as it may sound, we do have a voice and influence over the direction of our politics. As an example, the climate marches in 2019 led to 30 European countries declaring a climate emergency. Therefore, we must use this same energy and voice to support our classmates and ensure that all of us feel safe at school. We can all help, even if it makes a small difference.
I am not blind to the fact that some oppose the idea of same-sex marriage, however, perhaps it would help if the arguments were explored in more depth.
Traditionally, marriage was seen as a sacrament in which a couple could form a family. The opponents of same-sex marriage argue that marriage can only be seen as a union between a man and a women as that is the only and best way to form a family. However, today we can find that families come in all shapes and sizes. It is estimated that around 30,000 children in Switzerland grow up under same-sex couples and multiple studies have shown that there has been no difference in their well-being compared to traditional couples. The studies (for example, the American Psychological Association in 2005, and Science Direct Journal in 2013) all come to the same conclusion: it is the love and compassion shown towards the children that counts, not what sex the parents are. Same-marriage will, in fact, strengthen this compassion shown towards the children as marriage tends to give couples more stability and financial benefits (such as tax deductions). Moreover, the acceptance of same-sex marriage in society will help normalize this reality, decreasing discrimination and social stigma. LGBTQ+ people will always exist, as being queer is not a choice, but a natural and beautiful part of our humanity. The refusal of this project will not prevent these families from existing, it will simply make their lives harder, ironically making the well-being of the child worse. So we must move away from the traditional idea of family and accept the social reality we find ourselves in, and our laws must reflect this.
Another argument suggests same sex marriage would go against freedom of religion since religious institutions would be forced to conduct “practices” that go against their doctrines. This is also a mistruth. The bill concerns civil marriages and not religious marriages hence the marriage of same-sex couples is the business of the state (which is secular as defined in the Swiss constitution). The bill aims to give the same benefits to same-sex couples as traditional couples (for example, joint adoption, facilitated naturalization, hospital visitation rights, access to sperm donation, etc). All of these are currently inaccessible to same-sex couples under the current “Registered Partner” arrangement. Hence, marriage is more of a legal standard and religious institutions will have no obligation to conduct same sex marriages. That being said, numerous religious organizations have said that they would open their institutions to same-sex marriages if the bill passes (notably, the Swiss Protestant Church).
A final argument that is being heavily propagated is access to sperm donation. Sperm donations happen when a woman uses someone else’s sperm for impregnation. The referendum committee claims that this would go against the natural order. However, what the committee fails to mention is that sperm donation is already legal in Switzerland and is being used by heterosexual couples. The bill simply fixes an area of discrimination and brings equality amongst all couples. This practice has been approved by numerous ethical and scientific organizations, which makes sense; why deny anyone the right to have a child?
We must finally look at the well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals, something no one should be able to oppose. It has been proven that suicide rates, depression, violence, drug use, and unemployment have all decreased within the LGBTQ+ community when a country legalizes same-sex marriage. The Trevor Project estimates that legalizing same-sex marriage can save over 10,000 lives every year.
All of these are reasons why discrimination must end and why we must support this bill, for the sake of the values of our school and basic human rights of our classmates. So, what can you do? Many people in Geneva are not even aware that same-sex marriage was illegal. So, spread the word, start discussions in your friend groups, and post on social media. If you know someone who is Swiss, encourage them to vote this time (in Switzerland, referendum participation is extremely low, at 40-50%, meaning that more than half the country does not actually vote). If they have doubts about the bill, talk to them and try to understand their position. Attend the pride march on September 11th, donate to https://www.mariage-oui.ch/ (official campaign), and order flags.
Coming to terms with who you are is difficult and is something that takes a great deal of courage and bravery. So, what message do we want to give to our classmates who are facing this task? Intolerance and ignorance or love and acceptance?
Sources: RTS, The Trevor Project, Tribune de Geneve, SwissInfo, Mariage Oui Campaign, Mariage Non Campaign, Admin.ch, https://theconversation.com/factcheck-are-children-better-off-with-a-mother-and-father-than-with-same-sex-parents-82313