Switzerland Votes To Criminalise Sexuality-Based Discrimination
Switzerland has voted to criminalise discrimination and the incitement of hatred against people because of their sexual orientation.
Voters backed the ban by more than 63% in a referendum on Sunday, February 9, allowing the government to extend an existing hate speech law to cover those who experience discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
Prior to this, Switzerland had no laws that specifically protected lesbians, gay men and bisexual people from discrimination.
The referendum came about as a result of a decision in 2018 by Switzerland’s parliament to expand the country’s existing anti-discrimination law to make it illegal to publicly discriminate or stir up hatred based on a person’s sexual orientation.
Opponents of the move insisted it violated people’s right to freedom of opinion, and gathered enough signatures to force a referendum. The results didn’t go their way though, with voters supporting outlawing anti-gay discrimination by a margin of 63.1% to 36.9%.
Mathias Reynard, a Social Democrat who drafted the legislation, said the vote showed there was ‘no place for hate and discrimination in Switzerland’.
He said, as per The Times:
This is a historic day. It gives a signal which is magnificent for everyone and for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination.
The revision expands the scope of a 1995 law that bans discrimination on the grounds of race or religion, and means those who discriminate or incite hate speech against gay people could receive fines or face up to three years in prison.
Under the law, public venues such as restaurants, cinemas and swimming pools will not be able to turn people away because of their sexual orientation – something they had previously been able to do. The extension also means people can be prosecuted for homophobic comments they make on television or in messages posted to social media.
The law will cover sexual orientation but not gender identity, although lawmakers initially included wording in the bill to protect transgender people. However, the Council of States, Switzerland’s higher parliamentary chamber, rejected it on the basis that the criteria were too vague.
Caroline Dayer, an expert on preventing violence and discrimination based in Geneva, said the law would provide much-needed protection to lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people.
She told The New York Times:
In Switzerland, it’s possible to publicly say, for instance, ‘burn the gay’ or ‘lesbians must be raped’ without any concern.
She said the law will finally put an end to such discrimination, adding: ‘insulting and promoting hatred is not discussing’, in reference to opponents’ claims that they should be able to discuss their views on homosexuality publicly.
Switzerland has long trailed behind most of its neighbours regarding LGBTQ+ rights, with other European countries such as France, Britain, and Belgium having enacted laws against homophobia since the early 2000s.
While this revision to the law might have been a long time coming, it’s certainly a huge step in the right direction and will hopefully pave the way for greater improvements to LGBTQ+ rights in Switzerland.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, or email [email protected]
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