LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Switzerland: Marriage discrimination disguised as vote on tax reform

On 28 February, the Swiss will vote on a popular initiative (Swiss form of referendum) on tax for couples. The initiative also aims at changing the definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman” in the Federal Constitution, therefore barring marriage for same-sex couples in the future.

The Swiss Christian Democratic People’s Party (PDC) launched a civil initiative “For the couple and the family – against the marriage penalty”. Their goal is to rectify what they call a “marriage inequality”. Despite the wording, it is not an attempt to make marriage equal for all – rather the opposite.

No, it is not just a tax question

Currently only 80’000 married or registered couples pay more federal tax than non-registered couples. This is the inequality the initiators behind the referendum are targeting.

The problem is: while aiming to end this fiscal inequality, the initiators of the vote also seek to change the definition of marriage in the Federal Constitution. While currently, article 14 guarantees the right to marriage and a family in gender-neutral terms, the proposed new article would read:

 “Marriage is the sustainable and regulated union between a man and a woman. From a fiscal point of view, marriage constitutes an economic community. It cannot be discriminated against other ways of living, in particular in terms of tax and social insurance”.

Constitutionalising discrimination against same-sex couples

A coalition of Swiss LGBTI organisations, with the support of various civil society organisations and political parties, has launched a multi-lingual campaign Avancons Ensemble (in French) / Gemeinsam Weiter (in German) / Avanti Insieme (in Italian). The campaign’s goal is to alert voters on the discriminatory impact this change in the Constitution would have on the rights of same-sex couples in Switzerland. It would in fact enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in the Constitution.

If the popular initiative is accepted, the current political process towards marriage equality would stop here. While same-sex couples can enter into a registered partnership in Switzerland, a negative outcome of the vote would simply block Swiss same-sex couples to benefit from the highest form of partnership recognition: marriage.