Zurich’s homosexual community celebrated a landmark victory on Tuesday as the city registered its first gay couple.
Ernst Ostertag and Robert Rapp, both 73 years old, exchanged rings under a new law that grants same-sex couples official recognition.
Five other couples were also registered on Tuesday and 15 others are due to follow in the coming days.
Gay rights supporters are now campaigning for similar recognition at a national level.
“It’s very symbolic that Zurich has enacted this law, allowing the first gay registrations in the German-speaking part of Switzerland,” said François Baur, president of Swiss gay rights organisation Pink Cross.
“Similar proposals are already at the committee stage in the national parliament and we expect to see a nationwide referendum on the issue by 2005.”
Zurich is actually the second Swiss city to recognise gay and lesbian partnerships, with Geneva having led the way in 2001. However the Zurich registrations go somewhat further than those in Geneva.
As well as receiving civic recognition, Zurich’s gay couples will be granted similar tax allowances to heterosexual pairs and will also be allowed full visitation rights if one partner is hospitalised.
Perhaps even more significantly, the Zurich registrations are the first in the world to be backed by a popular referendum. Almost two-thirds of voters in the canton gave their backing to the proposals in September.
Arriving in a horse-drawn carriage at Zurich’s city hall on Tuesday morning, Ostertag and Rapp were the first gay couple to be recognised by the city.
Together for the past 47 years, the pair seemed delighted not only with the occasion, but also with their role as pioneers.
“It’s really a coronation of everything that the whole community has done in the past 50 years,” Ostertag told swissinfo shortly after exchanging rings with his partner.
“We have become symbols of the fight for homosexual equality in Switzerland and today marks a major victory in that fight.”
Ostertag also pointed out that this wasn’t the first time he had been registered by the Zurich authorities although the previous occasion had been under very different circumstances.
“During the police repressions of the 1960s, I was also on a list of homosexual men. The police raided my flat once at 4.30am, took me down to the station and even took my fingerprints. It was inhuman, a dreadful experience.
“Now here we are using the word ‘registration’ again, but in a completely different context. So now we can leave all those past memories behind and just forget about it.”
Unsurprisingly, after almost half a century together, Ostertag and Rapp don’t expect Tuesday’s ceremony to have a radical effect on their relationship. Nor are they planning a honeymoon, having already enjoyed one in Greece back in 1957.
But there may now be at least one small change in the way the two men introduce each other to the outside world.
“We haven’t quite decided how we’ll refer to each other now,” beamed Ostertag. “Most people know us by now of course, but, yes, in certain cases I’ll probably be saying ‘this is my husband, Robbi’.”
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich
Ernst Ostertag and Robert Rapp became Zurich’s first official gay couple on Tuesday.
The two 73-year-olds have been partners for 47 years.
Five other homosexual couples were registered on Tuesday with another 15 due to follow in the next few days.
Zurich is the second Swiss city, after Geneva, to grant official recognition to gay couples.