Switzerland votes to criminalize homophobia

By: Sam Mukwamu
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Swiss voters have supported a referendum to make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.

In Sunday’s vote, voters were 63.1% in favor to 36.9% against expanding the anti-discrimination law to cover sexual orientation. Of Switzerland’s 26 cantons (states), only three — Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Schwyz and Uri — had majorities vote against it.

Switzerland previously had no law specifically protecting members of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination and hate speech. In 2018, Switzerland’s parliament passed a law to expand the application of the country’s existing anti-discrimination law to make it illegal to publicly discriminate or incite hatred based on a person’s sexual orientation.

However, opponents of expanding the law, which included the conservative Christian Federal Democratic Union (EDU) and the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), obtained the 50,000 signatures necessary under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy to put the matter to a vote.

Switzerland holds referendums several times a year, giving voters a direct say in policy-making.

Under the new law, homophobic comments made in private conversations, like those among family or friends, would not be criminalized, but discriminating against someone for being gay or inciting hatred against them via text, speech, images or gestures, would be illegal.

Operators of public facilities like cinemas, nightclubs and restaurants will no longer be able to turn people away because of their sexual orientation. Doing so could result in fines or a jail sentence of up to three years.

Pink cross Switzerland released a statement saying, “The result proves a strong sign of acceptance for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. After the clear yes, the LGBTI community will use this momentum to achieve the consistent implementation of the penal code and to enforce marriage equality.”

Freedom of expression

Those opposed to changing the law argued that the decision would infringe on people’s right to free speech.

“We don’t even know if jokes about gays will be allowed,” said Benjamin Fischer of the Swiss People’s Party. “Some say yes, some say no they will be punishable. We live in a country with freedom of expression, people should be allowed to think and say what they like, even if it’s a bit stupid or tasteless.”