Switzerland has to use marriage equality ‘momentum’ to fight for better LGBT+ rights, activist says


Switzerland has said a resounding “yes” to same-sex marriage in a history-making referendum – but the work towards LGBT+ equality doesn’t stop there.

An overwhelming 64.1 per cent of voters backed same-sex marriage in a nationwide referendum on Sunday (26 September), ending eight long years of drawn out debate and campaigning.

The landslide result is a huge leap forward for the conservative country, which is notoriously slow to embrace social change. But the Swiss LGBT+ community know the fight isn’t over yet.

“We cannot take progress for granted,” said Hannes Rudolph of HAZ – Queer Zurich, Switzerland’s oldest surviving LGBT+ group, speaking to PinkNews.

“We must stay visible, loud and clear about injustice.”

Rudolph was thrilled by the referendum result – to have such a clear consensus is a “rare thing” in Switzerland, and to see a majority of the public firmly standing behind the LGBT+ community was a real victory for the community.

However, the 35.9 per cent of voters who opposed same-sex marriage aren’t going away, and as Rudolph says: “We have seen that progress always comes with the risk of a backlash.”

“Look at Hungarian and Polish anti-LGBT+ politics, anti-abortion-laws around the globe, right-wing conservatives fighting against sex education… One challenge will be to make people understand that the fight for equal rights is not over with same-sex-marriage,” he said.

One area that needs much improvement is hate crime and anti-LGBT+ discrimination.

Switzerland only introduced its first law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexuality as recently as 2020, and legal protections for queer people are still limited.

Earlier this year the LGBTQ+ Danger Index ranked Switzerland at 25, putting it behind Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Puerto Rico.

Rudolph also stresses that “trans and intersex people need to be protected against discrimination, conversion therapies and non-consensual surgeries must be forbidden”.

“The health system needs to improve to meet trans and intersex people’s needs, and those of their parents. Families and children with more than two parents must be legally recognised.

“Another focus has to be minorities within the queer community,” he continued. “Queers of colour, queer disabled people, queer migrants and others should find welcoming structures and a community that doesn’t exclude them.

“In solidarity with other minorities and with women and others who experience sexism, we want to make Switzerland a safer place for marginalised people.”

This is the mission of HAZ, a Zurich-based community organisation focused on empowering, connecting and counselling LGBT+ people in Switzerland. But the push for progress has to come from outside the LGBT+ community, too.

The marriage equality campaign saw that happen for the first time: celebrities, sportspeople, even big corporations spoke out in favour of same-sex marriage, marking a watershed moment for the country. Rudolph has hope they can maintain that momentum past the referendum.

“As we have seen from other countries, the existence of legal same-sex married couples will already raise acceptance and it will improve mental health of queer people. We will use this momentum to empower our community to fight for the rights that are left.”