By Silke Koltrowitz, Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Cecile Mantovani
ZURICH – Swiss voters decide on Sunday whether to allow same-sex couples to wed and adopt children after a highly charged campaign pitted gay rights activists against traditionalists in one of the last Western European countries to still ban gay marriage.
The federal government and parliament have approved opening civil marriage to same-sex couples, but opponents forced a referendum on the issue under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.
In a provocative campaign, opponents of the reform used images of crying babies and the word “slaves” written over dark-skinned pregnant bellies, in a reference to surrogacy that is illegal in Switzerland, in stark contrast to proponents waving “Yes, I do” rainbow flags at Zurich and Geneva pride parades.
Showing the no-campaign in the traditionally conservative and Christian Switzerland had gained traction in recent weeks, the share of voters set to approve same-sex marriage fell to 63% in the latest poll by gfs.bern for broadcaster SRG, while the share of opponents rose to 35%, versus 69% to 29% a month earlier.
Zurich residents Corinne Guntern and Anouk Oswald, a young same-sex couple, said the ‘Marriage for All’ vote represented an important milestone for their future.
“I want to be able to choose for myself if I want to marry this partner next to me and if it’s the right path for us to start a family,” Oswald, 30, told Reuters. “It’s important to show the younger generation you don’t need to hide.”
Guntern, also 30, said it was not fair that a single woman could adopt a child while a same-sex couple could not.
“Of course, a child needs safety and love … but I don’t think it makes a difference whether that’s given by a straight or gay couple,” she said.
In Switzerland, same-sex couples received the right to enter civil partnerships in 2007 and the right to adopt children parented by their partner in 2018.
Under the amended law, both male and female same-sex couples would be allowed to adopt children unrelated to them in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts.
Married lesbian couples would also be allowed to have children through sperm donation, which is currently legal only for married heterosexual couples. Under the law, both women would be recognised as the child’s official parents from birth.
Antonia Hauswirth of the national committee “Marriage for All” told Reuters the current adoption procedure could take three years. “If something happens to the biological mother during this time, the child is considered an orphan.”
The proposed scheme would give children born from a sperm donation two parents from birth and thus better legal protection, she said.
Opponents say the changes would deprive children of a father.
“Tomorrow, a child in Switzerland will still have a mother, but just an ‘other parent’ instead of a father. The father just gets deleted from the civil code, that’s not acceptable to me,” Olivier Dehaudt, member of a referendum committee objecting to the proposal, told Reuters.
The proposed legal change would also open an easier path to citizenship for the foreign spouse of a Swiss citizen.