February 28, 2016 at 6:34 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Swiss voters narrowly reject anti-marriage proposal

Switzerland, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

LGBT rights advocates rally in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2014 in Bern, Switzerland. Swiss voters on Feb. 28, 2016, narrowly rejected a proposal that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the country’s constitution. (Photo courtesy of Maria von Känel/Swiss Rainbow Families Association)

Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly rejected a proposal that would have prevented same-sex couples from receiving marriage rights.

Election officials indicate the initiative failed by a 51-49 percent margin.

The Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland proposed the initiative — titled “For the Couple and the Family — No to the Marriage Penalty” — in 2012 as a way to address tax “inequality” among married couples. The initiative also sought to amend the Swiss Federal Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Marriage is the sustainable and regulated union between a man and a woman,” reads the proposed amendment, according to ILGA-Europe. “From a fiscal point of view, marriage constitutes an economic community. It cannot be discriminated against other ways of living, in particular in terms of tax and social insurance.”

“This initiative was anti-LGBTI sentiment masquerading as tax reform,” said Joyce Hamilton, co-chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, in a statement on Sunday. “The Swiss public saw through the proposal and said they didn’t want to be part of it.”

Swiss LGBT rights advocates also welcomed the vote’s outcome.

Pink Cross posted a picture to its Twitter page with the caption “Yes! A no!”

The Bern-based advocacy group was among the coalition of more than LGBT organizations that urged Swiss voters to oppose the initiative.

“We are very happy that we won this vote,” Pink Cross Secretary General Bastian Baumann told the Washington Blade.

Maria von Känel of the Swiss Rainbow Families Association described Sunday’s vote as “a successful fight against a significant setback.”

“We succeeded in mobilizing a large section of the general public in preventing the enshrinement in the Swiss constitution of the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” she told the Blade.

Switzerland has legally recognized same-sex relationships under its Partnership Act since 2007.

The country’s highest court later ruled that gays and lesbians in long-term relationships were entitled to receive the same death benefits from their partner’s pensions that heterosexuals do.

Members of the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Council, which is the lower house of the Swiss Federal Assembly, in February 2015 overwhelmingly recommended that the country extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of States, which is the upper house of the Swiss Federal Assembly, last September approved the proposal by a 7-5 vote margin.

The Swiss Federal Assembly later this year is expected to debate the issue.

Von Känel told the Blade on Sunday that 70 percent of Swiss people support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“The result of the vote strengthens our resolve to continue our struggle for marriage equality, a parliamentary initiative on which topic is currently being discussed,” she said, referring to Sunday’s vote.

Baumann made a similar point.

“So now we approaching more conservative MP’s and try to convince them for marriage equality,” he told the Blade. “In other hand we try to show the diversity of love and couples in Switzerland with our campaign.”

The Council of States on March 8 is scheduled to vote on a bill that would extend second-parent adoption rights to LGBT couples.

“We are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that the bill will pass,” von Känel told the Blade.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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