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Point of view The initiative forbids marriage for everyone

Rejection of the initiative “For marriage and family – against the marriage penalty” will prioritise respect for human rights, says Alain Bovard. Lawyers and lobbyists at Amnesty International describe the text of the initiative as “a form of blackmail of Swiss voters”. In order to eliminate one form of discrimination, another must be introduced, namely the thwarting of marriage for same-sex couples.

Point of view Bovard

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By Alain Bovard

I plan to vote “no” on February 28 on the initiative “For marriage and family – against the marriage penalty”. This is not because I endorse the unequal treatment of married couples compared to others. It’s because the initiative may appear quite respectable but like the Trojan horse it hides a less respectable goal: the prohibition of marriage for all.

Alain Bovard studied law, specialising in human rights. He is a lawyer and lobbyist for the Swiss section of Amnesty International. 


The text of the initiative does not just prohibit the penalisation of marriage, but creates a highly restrictive definition of this institution: the enduring and legally governed union between a man and a woman. This definition, if approved by Swiss voters at the ballot box, would be embedded in the constitution, shutting the door for a long time on marriage for everyone. With the elimination of one form of discrimination, which currently prevails at the taxation level for married couples vis-à-vis other living arrangements, the initiative would then introduce a new kind of discrimination and bar gays and lesbians from having access to marriage. 

While the right to marry for same-sex couples is not explicitly recognised in Swiss law, Western Europe is in general moving in this direction. Same-sex marriage is recognised in 14 countries from Portugal to Finland. In Ireland, an extremely conservative country, 60% of the electorate voted in favour of same-sex marriage in a May 2015 referendum.

More good news followed in the United States last June when the Supreme Court, as a last instance, ruled that marriage should be legalised for all in every state. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, sacrifice and family,” the ruling states. “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. . . . They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” This ruling was a good example of openmindedness for an authority that tends to have a rather conservative reputation.

This demonstrates once again that mindsets can change, and that the topic of marriage for all can be discussed without the risk of shocking the public. By turning their backs on this openness, the Christian Democrat Party and their initiative go against current trends, even if neither the federal court nor parliament considers it beneficial at the moment to allow same-sex couples to marry.

This could soon change, however, as a parliamentary initiative is calling for the opening of legally regulated partnerships to all couples, independent of their sex or sexual orientation. This initiative does not demand marriage for everyone, but rather partnerships for everyone, and therefore complete equal treatment.

I can only agree with this type of project because it illustrates the principle of the universality of human rights, which of course also include the right to marriage and the right to family. Parliament has not yet dealt with this initiative, but I am optimistic that it will be well received despite possible negative reactions from conservative circles.

The initiative “For marriage and family” does not inspire me in any way. In fact, it irritates and even upsets me because it is a form of blackmail of citizens. Those who rightfully want to get rid of the anachronistic unequal treatment between married and unmarried couples in terms of taxes have no other choice than to block the path for marriage for everyone for years. I for one will not give in to this pressure. Even if some 80,000 married couples are discriminated against by the current law, I will give priority to the respect for human rights and leave the door open for the equality of all in relation to marriage, independent of sexual orientation.

Translated by Catherine McLean

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