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Geneva registers its first "gay divorces"

Love doesn't always last a lifetime.

(Keystone/Martin Ruetschi/swissinfo)

The honeymoon is over for some of Geneva’s "married" homosexuals, who have begun dissolving their legally recognised partnerships.

Some 215 gay and 54 heterosexual couples have taken advantage of the canton’s groundbreaking partnership law since it came into force in May 2001.

But four years later, 19 of them, or around seven per cent, have decided to officially end their relationships. Seventeen of those were same-sex couples.

"They’re splitting up for the same reasons that married people get divorced," said Maurice Fiumelli of the cantonal chancellery office.

"Some of them have discovered that they don’t get along or they’ve fallen in love with other people and want out of the relationship," he told swissinfo.

But while breaking up may be hard to do, from an administrative point of view, it is relatively straightforward in Geneva.

According to the law, if the two partners agree to separate, a letter addressed to the chancellery is enough to dissolve the relationship on paper.

If only one half of the couple decides to split, the other partner is informed and the agreement is annulled 60 days later.

"Ending the partnership agreement is a lot like a ending an engagement," said Yves de Matteis, who took part in Geneva’s first official gay ceremony in 2001.

The law does not cover property or pets and supporters say this helps cut down on disputes.

Groundbreaking

Geneva was the first Swiss canton to start officially recognising same-sex partnerships.

The law gives all cohabitating couples – whether homosexual or heterosexual – the same rights as married couples in their dealings with the state, except with regard to taxation and social security benefits.

It also has no impact on their health insurance premiums or rights to adopt children. But it does give them inheritance and hospital visitation rights and makes it easier to rent an apartment together.

Similar legislation exists in Zurich, where 383 homosexual partnerships – the vast majority involving men – were legally recognised between the start of July 2003 and the end of 2004.

None of those partners has asked for a "divorce" so far, according to cantonal officials.

Unlike Geneva, heterosexual couples in Zurich cannot benefit from the partnership law.

Neuchâtel was the most recent canton to introduce legislation for cohabitating couples in July 2004. So far, 35 straight couples have taken advantage of the offer compared with 21 gay partnerships.

Federal law

On June 5, voters across the country will be asked to decide whether to approve a federal law legalising same-sex partnerships in all the country’s 26 cantons.

Last year, parliament gave its blessing to gay couples, allowing them to register their relationships.

But a small ultra-conservative Christian party, the Federal Democratic Union, challenged the decision and has forced a nationwide referendum on the issue.

The proposed new law recognises the right of both partners to be next of kin but stops short of permitting them to take on a common surname, undergo fertility treatment or adopt children.

It does go further than Geneva’s cantonal legislation, however, in granting homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexuals in pension, insurance and tax matters.

According to Fiumelli, the outcome of the nationwide vote could have an impact on cantonal legislation.

"Following the June referendum, we’ll have to take a closer look at what we offer on a cantonal level and perhaps change certain elements of the agreement," Fiumelli said.

"But in general, what we’ve got in Geneva works very well despite the fact that some couples have split up," he added.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

Cantonal legislation allowing same-sex partnerships exists in Geneva, Zurich and Neuchâtel.
Geneva’s legislation is based on the French Civil Solidarity Pact, or PACS, which was approved in October 1999.
The law gives cohabitating couples – gay or straight – many of the same rights as married couples.
In June, Swiss voters will decide on a law aimed at recognising same-sex partnerships nationwide.

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