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Switzerland's first "gay marriages" take place in Geneva

Yves de Matteis and Patrick Berguer watch while another couple sign their ground-breaking partnership

(Keystone)

Official recognition of the homosexual community in Switzerland was given a big boost on Tuesday with the first ever legally-recognised partnership between same-sex couples.

Although not a marriage, the new partnership, which is only available in Geneva, gives gay partners many of the rights enjoyed by husbands and wives.

The ceremony on Tuesday, which lasted barely 10 minutes, took place in a small room in Geneva's City Hall. It was a modest occasion, with no music and no confetti. Journalists outnumbered friends and family by about three to one.

"It's not a marriage, it's just an administrative process," said Patrick Berguer, 42, one half of the first couple to enter into the partnership. "It won't change the way we live our lives".

However, Patrick did admit to being "moved". There will be no honeymoon, though. Patrick said he would have to return in the afternoon to his job as a computer specialist.

His partner, Yves de Matteis, has been a driving force in moves to get the partnership law passed in Geneva.

"We now have the same rights as heterosexual couples. So it is symbolically important. But it also shows that society has re-evaluated its attitude towards homosexuals," de Matteis told swissinfo.

"The authorities are recognising our life together, and that may give our relationship a more lasting perspective," he added.

Under the new law, which was approved by the cantonal government last week, all cohabiting couples - whether homosexual or heterosexual will be treated in exactly the same way as married couples in their dealings with the state, except with regard to taxation and social security benefits.

Patrick and Yves, who have been together for over five years, informed the authorities of their wish to make their status as a couple official. Armed with the requisite documents, they filled in a declaration to that effect, and in return, they received a certificate proving their partnership.

Geneva is recognised as being more liberal-minded than the rest of the country, but gay activists are hopeful that the Geneva experience will have an effect on a national level. The Swiss Justice Minister, Ruth Metzler, is currently drawing up a draft federal law on same-sex partnerships.

"Geneva has shown that the principle of equality has to be respected - and that sends a strong message to the confederation and to Ruth Metzler," de Matteis said.

The new law will have no impact on homosexual couples' taxes, health insurance premiums or rights to adopt children. But it will give them inheritance rights, and make it easier for them to rent an apartment together, and have visiting rights in hospitals.

"Society will now also have to regard us as a couple," says de Matteis.

The law has been dubbed the Geneva PACS, after the French Civil Solidarity Pact approved in October 1999. It does not specifically mention same-sex partners, although it was originally conceived just for homosexuals. Making the law apply to all couples makes it flexible means it can be used by cohabiting elderly people who have found another partner after being widowed.

by Roy Probert


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