Federal Court says no to lesbian couples' residence rights

The Federal Court has rejected an appeal by a mixed nationality lesbian couple, who was seeking the right to live together in Switzerland.

This content was published on August 25, 2000 - 17:04

The Swiss woman had met her partner in New Zealand, and had been granted residence there, but they wished to return together to live in Switzerland. The Swiss woman had been unable to find work as a German teacher, her normal profession, and her mother was ill.

But while the New Zealander was able to enter Switzerland as a tourist, the authorities in canton Zurich refused her request to remain in the country after her three-month tourist visa expired. The couple then returned to New Zealand, where they have been for the past year.

The women took their case to the Federal Court, arguing there had been a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Swiss constitution.

The five member Court ruled by three votes to two that although the right to privacy guaranteed by Article Eight of the Convention was relevant, it had not been breached.

The court said preventing mixed nationality gay and lesbian couples from living together could only be considered discriminatory, if they had no other option open to them. In the court's view, the women had the choice of continuing to live in New Zealand because the law there permits homosexual couples to live together.

The court also ruled that Swiss immigration law was paramount in such cases.

Campaigners for gay and lesbian rights have condemned the decision. Liz Bangemann, of the Swiss Lesbians' Organisation said: "It was a mean judgement. They basically said that if the New Zealander had come from Iran or Algeria, or somewhere where the women couldn't live as a couple, then she would have been allowed to stay."

Bangemann said rights campaigners planned to continue their push for formal legal recognition under Swiss law of gay and lesbian partnerships. "Once we have this, the nationality issue will be irrelevant, since mixed-nationality gay and lesbian partners will have the same rights as married mixed-nationality heterosexuals.

"As it stands, some gay couples arrange marriages of convenience in order to stay in Switzerland, although it's risky, and it's not something they want to do. Otherwise, the foreign partner can try to find a job in their own right, get a work permit and so a residence permit."

Bangemann also said the court argued that a series of bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union, which the Swiss voters approved in May, made changes in the law unnecessary. "They say it will become easier for EU citizens to live and work in Switzerland, so this will make life easier for gay and lesbian couples, but it won't help people who come from outside Europe get into the country."

The Federal Court also rejected an appeal from an Italian lesbian couple. One partner already had residence rights in Canton Ticino, and her partner, who lived in northern Italy, had applied for them.

But the court ruled that despite having to cross the Swiss-Italian frontier, the two women could easily make the 40-kilometre journey between their respective homes.

Barbara Brosi, of the Swiss Lesbians' Organisation, said she receives at least two requests a week for help from mixed nationality couples. The gay men's organisation, Pink Cross, is believed to deal with the same number.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss Lesbians' Organisation

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