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Gay couples edge closer to equal rights

The first lesbian couple to be officially recognised in Geneva signed their contract in 2001 Keystone Archive

The House of Representatives has approved legislation to grant gay couples the right to register their partnerships.

This content was published on December 2, 2003 - 16:54

But opponents have promised to put the issue to a nationwide vote if the Senate follows suit.

The new law would give gays and lesbians the same entitlements as married couples – with just a few exceptions.

They would not have the automatic right to adopt children or have access to fertility treatment, and there would be no legal provision for a common surname.

“Of course, those are rights that we would also like to have,” Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation Pink Cross told swissinfo.

“But we would be happy to see the law adopted in its current form,” he added.

Civil law

Opponents of the proposals, such as Christian Waber of the conservative religious party, the Federal Democratic Union, argue that the rights of people in same-sex partnerships are already guaranteed under civil law, and there is no need for any new legislation.

“Common property rights can be covered by wills, and civil law can be used to guarantee access to information,” he told swissinfo.

But the Pink Cross insists that provisions under civil law are not enough. Volken says gay and lesbian couples are currently discriminated against in a number of areas including health insurance, pensions, taxes or the death of a partner.

The new legislation would recognise the right of both partners to be the next of kin, and in the case of the death of one partner, allow the other to inherit common property without being hit with a huge tax bill.

“At the moment, of course, the law allows you to leave everything to your partner, but not in the same way as married couples,” said Volken.

“This means that if you have built a house together and one partner dies, the other one will have to pay taxes just to keep what already belongs to them.

“In some cases that tax can be as high as 50 per cent, and most people simply would not be able to afford to pay.”

Rights

Giving same-sex couples the chance to register their partnerships is also an issue of human rights, says the Pink Cross.

It would be proof that the prejudice of previous decades no longer exists and it would act as a sign that gay men and lesbians have been integrated fully into society.

“We were born here, brought up here and are members of this society, and it’s very natural that we should have the same rights as everybody else.”

“This legislation wouldn’t force gay men and lesbians to ‘marry’, it would just give them the same right of choice as heterosexual men and women.”

But Waber says he will call for a nationwide vote if the legislation makes its way through parliament.

He maintains the prime function of any state is to protect the family and not promote other lifestyles.

“Gay and lesbian couples already have rights as citizens, and those rights are guaranteed in the sense that they are not discriminated against,” he said.

“The state can only protect lifestyles that actually guarantee its future – and that means the family and children.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Key facts

The proposals would give gay and lesbian partnerships almost the same rights as married couples.
The Federal Democratic Union says it will call for a nationwide vote if parliament passes the legislation.
Denmark, in 1989, was the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to register their partnerships.
There are around 400,000 homosexuals in Switzerland, making up about 6% of the population.
The Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva both grant official recognition to gay couples.

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