The law recognizing civil unions between people of the same sex, adopted by the Swiss Parliament at the end of 2020, will ultimately have to go through a referendum: a petition exceeding the 50,000 signatures required has in fact been submitted to the authorities to this effect.
On April 12, 2021, 59,176 certified signatures were deposited at the headquarters of the Federal Chancellery, calling for the organization of a referendum on civil union between persons of the same sex.
According to Swiss law, a law passed by parliament can be contested by the people. This requires at least 50,000 signatures within 100 days of publication of the law. If successful, the law is put to the vote of the citizens of the Confederation.
This procedure must be distinguished from that of the initiative, which allows the people to propose a new law. In that case, 100,000 signatures must be collected. Accordingly, the famous law banning minarets was the result of a popular initiative.
On December 18, 2020, a law on “marriage for all,” similar to that in force in France, was adopted by Swiss parliamentarians, making the Swiss Confederation the twenty-ninth country to provide a legal framework for same-sex unions.
Three referendum committees were engaged in the battle against the law passed on December 18. The main one, led by the Federal Democratic Union (UDF, conservative Christians) and a few personalities from the Union of Center Democrats (UDC, sovereign right) oppose the very principle of same-sex marriage. It has collected more than 50,000 signatures.
About ten thousand more signatures come from a committee that opposes the project because it paves the way for medically assisted reproduction (ART) for female couples. Finally, the Foundation for the Family, based in Grimisuat, Valais, provided some 5,000 supporting signatures.
The recognition of civil unions between persons of the same sex “would amount to opening a social and political breach which would eliminate the historical definition of marriage, understood as the lasting union of a man and a woman,” write the petitioners who insist: “marriage is, and must remain, the natural union of a man and a woman, which has to be protected.”
Facing defenders of the traditional family, Operation Libero has launched an online petition in favor of the law, and claims to have acquired 100,000 signatures. “It is distressing to see that certain groups fight specifically against equal rights in Switzerland,” declared Olef Gafner, champion of ecology in Switzerland: it is forgetting that the law is based on what is just, not on minorities, still less on deregulated human passions.”
Protestants from the “evangelical” movement have decided to fully mobilize against “marriage for all.” They are also active in the UDF: this modest party founded in 1975 advocates a “political order based on biblical values.” In February 2020, it had already opposed an “anti-homophobia law.”
The Catholic Church remains conspicuously absent on the question of the referendum. At the beginning of December 2020, the Episcopal Conference performed the minimum service, issuing an ambiguous communiqué, in which it was declared that one could not “accept under this form” the bill passed by Parliament.
The “silence” of the Swiss prelates can perhaps be explained by the various currents which agitate them: the German-speaking party, largely inspired by a very progressive Germany, and the French-speaking and Italian-speaking parties, more conservative.
According to a survey carried out by GFS-Zürich, published in November 2020, 82% of Swiss people would be in favor of “marriage for all.” This leaves very little room for the success of the referendum.