GENEVA (AFP) - Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters have approved the government’s plan to introduce same-sex marriage, according to the first projections following Sunday’s (Sept 26) referendum triggered by opponents of the move.
Market researchers GFS Bern - who conducted the main polling throughout the campaign - projected that 64 per cent of voters backed the “marriage for all” proposals, which would bring the Alpine nation into line with most of western Europe.
The polling stations closed at noon, with the full results expected to follow within hours.
Switzerland decriminalised homosexuality in 1942, but numerous local and regional police forces continued to keep “gay registers”, some into the early 1990s.
Same-sex couples can already register a civil partnership, with around 700 such partnerships established each year.
However, this status does not provide the same rights as marriage, including for obtaining citizenship and the joint adoption of children.
After years of debate and discussion, the Swiss Parliament approved a Bill last December allowing same-sex couples to marry in the country of 8.6 million people.
But it was challenged under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, with opponents gathering the 50,000 signatures needed to put the issue to a referendum.
The government and parliament urged voters to back “marriage for all” in order to eliminate the “unequal treatment” between heterosexual and gay couples.
Opinion polling during the campaign showed that members of some Christian congregations and supporters of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) - Switzerland’s largest political party - were the most likely to oppose legalising same-sex marriage.
The law change will allow same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies, and provide them with the same rights as other married couples.
Foreign spouses will become eligible to apply for citizenship through a simplified procedure, and same-sex couples will be permitted to jointly adopt.
And, in what proved the most controversial aspect of the referendum campaign, lesbian couples will have access to sperm donations.
Stark poster campaign
Opponents plastered Swiss cities with stark posters decrying the commodification of children and warning the law will “kill the father”.
One of the posters showed a crying baby with its ear tagged like cattle, and the question: “Babies on demand?”
Another featuring a huge zombie-like head, meant to represent a dead father, was covered over by a nearby primary school in the southern Wallis canton out of fear it would frighten the children.
A second vote was held alongside the referendum, on an initiative brought forward by the youth wing of the Socialist Party, entitled “Reduce taxes on wages, tax capital equitably”.
Proponents of the so-called “99 per cent” initiative wanted greater taxation on high levels of capital income, with the threshold to be set by Parliament.
The revenues generated would have been used to reduce income taxes for the less well off.
GFS Bern projected that the initiative had been rejected, with only 34 per cent backing the proposal.