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Switzerland catches up over gay rights

The first gay couples queue up to be married in the Netherlands Keystone

A vote in favour of allowing gay couples to register their partnerships would bring Switzerland into line with many other European countries.

This content was published on April 26, 2005 - 11:39

The Scandinavians started to give homosexual partners more rights 15 years ago, while registration of gay partnerships is already in force in neighbouring Germany and France.

European countries have led the way in the promotion of gay rights, with Denmark being the first country to introduce registered partnerships in 1989.

Norway, Sweden and Iceland all enacted similar legislation in 1996 and Finland followed six years later.

Germany has allowed couples to register for life partnerships since 2001. The law gives couples the same inheritance and tenants’ rights as heterosexual married couples, plus the right for a person to adopt their partner’s children.

Since 1999 France has had a civil contract called the Pacs, which gives limited rights to cohabiting couples, regardless of their sex. But the Pacs does not offer taxes, inheritance and adoption rights as in marriage.

Switzerland’s other neighbours, Italy and Austria, have no immediate plans to offer civil partnerships to gay couples.

As of next December homosexuals and lesbians in Britain are to benefit from similar financial and legal rights as married couples following parliamentary approval of the legislation last year.

Gay marriages

Some countries have gone further. In 2001 the Netherlands was the first state to allow same-sex marriages. Belgium followed suit two years later.

Last month [April] Spain also paved the way towards gay marriages when its lower house of parliament approved the right of homosexual couples to marry and adopt children. The government-backed bill still needs the approval of the Senate.

Outside Europe, six Canadian provinces and one territory currently issue marriage licences to gay couples. In December the Supreme Court said the government could legalise same-sex unions, but stopped short of saying if this was required by the constitution.

The issue is more controversial in the United States. Last November many states voted to amend their constitutions to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, but the clause was not passed in Congress.

Registered partnerships are allowed in Vermont and Connecticut and gay marriages are permitted in Massachusetts. However, Massachusetts state legislators are moving to ban same-sex unions but allow partnerships. A vote is expected in 2006.

In February last year 3,400 gay couples were married in San Francisco after the city started to issue marriage licences. But California’s Supreme Court ordered a halt in March and later ruled that the marriage licences issued were void.

Children

The Netherlands allows homosexual married couples to adopt, Belgium does not. Otherwise adoption is only permitted between same-sex couples in Sweden, some Canadian and US states and it is part of the new Spanish law.

In Denmark, Iceland and Germany the adoption of stepchildren - the children of one partner from an earlier relationship – is allowed.

Experts say that the legislation proposed by Switzerland, which bans fertility treatment and adoption, is among the strictest in Europe.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

Registered partnerships: Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, Finland, Germany, France, plus US states of Vermont and Connecticut.

Gay marriages: The Netherlands, Belgium, six Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan) and the Yukon Territory, plus the US state of Massachusetts.

In progress: Spain – law allowing gay marriages and adoption. Britain – civil partnerships bill.

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