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Support for same-sex marriage wanes but remains solid

Switzerland's LGBTIQ community has been campaigning for same-sex marriage during the Zurich Pride parade earlier this month. Keystone/Michael Buholzer

A proposal to grant marital status to same-sex couples in Switzerland has lost ground. But it is likely to win a majority in a nationwide vote later this month, a poll has found.

This content was published on September 15, 2021 - 06:00

A separate left-wing initiative to introduce a capital gains tax, which will also be decided on September 26, is heading for defeat after it met huge opposition.

Over the past month, the “marriage for all” proposal, which involves a legal reform of the civil code, has lost six percentage points to opponents, according to the GfS Bern research institute.

The poll was published on Wednesday on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

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“Despite growing pressure by opponents, the reform still has a clear majority,” says Martina Mousson, a political scientist at GfS BernExternal link.

As shown in the graphic above, the “yes” camp is ahead by nearly 30% percentage points.

The poll nonetheless found that support is waning slightly among many political and social groups, including expat Swiss citizens.

“This is unusual and goes against the normal pattern in referendum campaigns,” says Mousson. “But it is not a dramatic shift,” she adds.

As a rule, support for legal changes tend to grow over time, in line with the position of the government and the majority in parliament.

The poll shows that opposition comes mainly from three groups: grassroots supporters of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, government critics and members of Evangelical churches.

Children

The opponents’ campaign has succeeded to some degree in raising conservative concerns about the well-being of children of same-sex parents and that procreation needs a man and a woman according to the law of nature.

“Marriage for all” supporters argue that gay marriage is long overdue to achieve equal rights, and that, by definition, the traditional family is not a unique model for raising children, Mousson explains.

Parliament had approved the “marriage for all” legal reform last year, but a small ultra-conservative group, supported by the People’s Party, collected enough signatures to force a nationwide vote.

The ballot comes after Swiss voters in 2005 approved registered partnerships for same-sex couples.

It paved the way for the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples in the areas of pensions, inheritance and taxes. But the law didn’t allow adoptions of children or grant access to fertility treatment.

Waning support for tax initiative

The opinion poll also found support waning for a proposal to introduce a capital gains tax in Switzerland.

Opponents now have a 20-point lead over supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment.

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Compared with a first poll in August, support is down by nearly ten percentage points. But the initiative still enjoys considerable support from left-wing groups, women, the younger generation, and citizens in urban regions and French-speaking regions. However, this is not the case in the German- and Italian-speaking cantons.

This doesn’t surprise Lukas Golder, a political scientist and co-director of GfS Bern.

“It was to be expected, certainly for a left-wing proposal by a group with limited reach,” he says. “Their aim to fight for a fair distribution of wealth is not rejected outright, but it is seen as potentially dangerous for the country’s prosperity.”

The initiative by the Young Socialists targets the wealthy elite. It wants to increase a tax on dividends, shares, interest on wealth and rents by a factor of 1.5 compared with regular income tax.

Golder says opponents have managed to successfully argue that the proposal is an attack against the middle classes and small- and medium-sized businesses.

“It is a battle of ideologies between the political left and the right,” he says. “Small- and medium-sized businesses are seen as a tenet of the Swiss identity and the backbone of the economy.”

A similar proposal to impose a levy on income on capital gains was thrown out by Swiss voters in 2001, as were plans over the past 20 years to introduce an inheritance tax and the abolition of lump sum taxation for the wealthy.

Switzerland has no capital gains tax. The largely autonomous 26 cantons levy a wealth tax but they are free to set their own rate.

Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 13,261 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country and among the expatriate Swiss community for the second of two nationwide surveys.

The survey is based on online responses as well as telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users. It was carried out from September 1-9.

The margin of error is 2.8%.

The poll was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and carried out by the GfS Bern research institute.

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