From rights and laws to registering a partnership and tying the knot, we explain all you need to know about gay marriage in Switzerland.
While still not as progressive as other countries in Europe, Switzerland has come a long way when it comes to LGBT+ rights. And, as of December 2020, this includes the legalization of gay marriage in Switzerland. This followed the parliamentary amendment to the Swiss Civil Code to define marriage from “a union between a bride and a groom” to a “union between two people”.
This marked an important victory for same-sex couples in the country; especially as it came several years after most other western European states had already passed the law. That said, it also saw a fair amount of criticism. In fact, in April 2021, opponents of gay marriage even gathered enough signatures to force a binding referendum on the matter. This might end in the overturning of the law. At the time of writing, the referendum “against marriage for all” is set for 26 September 2021.
To help you navigate the current – and, hopefully, future – rights around gay marriage in Switzerland, this guide covers the following:
- Gay marriage in Switzerland
- The laws on gay marriage in Switzerland
- Attitudes towards gay marriage in Switzerland
- Getting married in Switzerland
- Registering a same-sex partnership in Switzerland
- Recognition of gay marriage by other countries
- Useful resources
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Gay marriage in Switzerland
The history of gay marriage in Switzerland is relatively new. The country is one of the safest in the world for the LGBT+ community. It guarantees some key rights to its LGBT+ citizens. This covers everything from ensuring equal treatment before the law to deeming discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity illegal.
That said, it has also had some serious catching up to do in terms of same-sex relationships. The Swiss government recognized same-sex unions in 2007 and legalized same-sex marriage in December 2020. By comparison, the Netherlands first recognized gay unions in 2001; followed by France in 2013, England and Wales in 2014, and Germany in 2017.
The passing of the new bill – which now includes wording that allows gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot – has been the result of multiple rounds of debate since 2013. It finally succeeded after a vote of 136 to 48 with nine abstentions in the National Council (lower house); plus 24 to 11 with seven abstentions in the Council of States (upper house).
But the recognition of gay marriage in Switzerland is also a result of shifting attitudes among Swiss people. In a November 2020 poll conducted by the LGBT umbrella organization Pink Cross, for instance, 82% of respondents expressed approval of same-sex marriage in strong or mild terms; an increase from 69% in 2016.
Besides legalizing gay marriage in Switzerland, the amendment also grants lesbian couples access to sperm donation. This also extends the role of parent to the woman not carrying the child. Furthermore, it allows same-sex couples that are currently in a registered partnership to convert their union into a marriage; thus opening up a whole new set of rights for both parties.
The laws on gay marriage in Switzerland
Requirement and rights in Switzerland
For a gay couple to tie the knot in Switzerland, both parties must be over 18 years old and have the capacity to consent. In addition, one or both individuals must be a Swiss national or reside in Switzerland.
Unlike same-sex civil partnerships, marriage provides the rights to obtain citizenship and the joint adoption of children. The ‘official’ union also facilitates a series of social and legal rights that two partners living together outside of marriage or in a registered partnership do not have access to.
For instance, marriage – hetero or gay – makes it easier for the parents of a child to be granted parental authority. Unmarried couples, on the other hand, must make a joint written declaration in order to establish joint parental authority. Married couples are also taxed jointly, have the right to inherit in case of their spouse’s death, and don’t have to sign a cohabitation agreement when they live together; something unmarried couples must do.
With the new bill, lesbians can also access sperm donation. This represents a major change from the previous legislation in Switzerland. That specified that sperm donation was only allowed for married heterosexual couples; not for unmarried couples, singles, or homosexual couples. That said, the referendum, which is planned for September 2021, might bring this recently achieved progressive shift to a crashing halt.
Opposition to the gay marriage bill
Indeed, under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, new laws can be challenged and put to a referendum if more than 50,000 valid signatures are collected within 100 days. Opponents of the gay marriage bill gathered more than 60,000 valid signatures; decrying gay unions as “fake marriages,” and insisting that only a man and a woman could wed.
The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the Democratic Christian Party (CVP), and the Federal Democratic Union (EDU) are all in favor of the same-sex referendum. They have been campaigning with the slogan, “Yes to marriage and family, no to marriage for everyone.”
However, Operation Libero, a liberal political movement that launched in the aftermath of the Swiss immigration referendum in October 2014, is currently campaigning to keep the law in place. In April, it gathered 100,000 signatures for a petition that stated, “it is important that people in Switzerland can get married irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Attitudes towards gay marriage in Switzerland
Attitudes and opinions towards gay marriage in Switzerland really vary, ranging from the progressive to the still extremely conservative; hence the current controversy over the same-sex marriage bill.
Public opinion on gay marriage in Switzerland
Like in most Western countries, attitudes towards gay marriage in Switzerland differ depending on several factors. This includes people’s political inclinations, religious beliefs, and upbringing. However, overall, the Swiss have been increasingly supporting LGBT+ rights, particularly in recent years. Shortly after voters backed an anti-gay discrimination law in February 2020, a survey by Pink Cross showed that four out of five people were in favor of extending the right to marry to same-sex couples.
In November 2020, the organization released another survey, indicating that 82% of the country’s residents supported marriage for same-sex couples. Such support is especially strong in cities like Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, the centers of gay life in Switzerland.
Despite this, gay individuals and couples continue to endure hostility from the most conservative factions of the country. This is namely members of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the Democratic Christian Party (CVP), and the Federal Democratic Union (EDU). They all look down on gay rights and are currently campaigning against gay marriage.
Sadly, this hostility has sometimes turned physical. After the anti-gay discrimination law passed, for instance, members of the gay community told Switzerland’s 20 Minuten paper that they were often physically attacked, and some even hospitalized. Other groups of young men told the same paper that they felt it was okay to hit openly gay couples, even suggesting that they could be “cured with a few blows”.
Religious attitudes towards gay marriage in Switzerland
Sexual orientation is no longer a burning issue in Switzerland, except for among some conservative religious groups which may demonstrate their opposition. That said, they do so in a peaceful manner. Still, gay couples can’t marry in a church, and with the country being predominantly Catholic, some opposition to gay marriage continues to exist due to religious beliefs. Moreover, members of the Democratic Christian Party (CVP) have often shown overt hostility towards gay people. Some politicians have even gone as far as tweeting statements like “man plus man doesn’t go”.
Getting married in Switzerland
The process that same-sex couples need to follow in order to tie the knot in Switzerland is not unlike that of heterosexual couples. Here is an outline of that process.
Applying for a marriage license in Switzerland
Gay couples planning to get married in Switzerland have to submit an application for preparation of marriage at the Registry Office where they intend to tie the knot. They must do this at least three months in advance of their wedding date.
Besides the application form, the future newlyweds must also sign a special declaration concerning the conditions for the marriage. This declares that they meet the requirements for marriage; i.e. they are both over 18, not previously married, and not related to each other. They must also declare that the documents presented are up to date, complete, and true. The fee for the application is between CHF 300 and CHF 400 throughout Switzerland.
The Civil Registrar then performs the marriage publicly in the town hall in the presence of two adult witnesses. You can find more information about the legal requirements and paperwork in our guide to weddings in Switzerland.
Registering a same-sex partnership in Switzerland
Registering a same-sex partnership in Switzerland is fairly straightforward. That said, partnerships don’t provide the same rights as marriage. This includes the right to obtain citizenship and the joint adoption of children.
Registering a same-sex partnership in Switzerland
To register a same-sex partnership in Switzerland, the couple has to apply at the Civil Registry Office of their place of residence; or that of their partner. Depending on the circumstances, couples need to present different documents. The Civil Registry Office can specify these and you can also find details on the information sheet on registered partnerships.
Should they want to host their ceremony in a place other than their Civil Registry Office district, the couple can request so once their application has been processed. They must then follow this through within three months, with their identity documents and authorization in hand.
Witnesses don’t have to be present for same-sex partnership proceedings. At the end of the ceremony, the registrar will issue a deed of partnership, which the couple has to sign and can take home. In some registry offices, it is also possible to exchange vows and rings after the official ceremony. The cost of registering a partnership in Switzerland is between CHF 400 and CHF 500.
Recognition of gay marriage by other countries
Notably, not all countries recognize gay marriages from other countries. Below is a list of countries that do and do not consider civil unions and registered partnerships made in Switzerland valid in their own country.
Countries that do recognize gay marriage in Switzerland
Currently, 31 of the 50 countries and the 8 dependent territories in Europe recognize some type of same-sex union. Most of them are members of the European Union. As it is part of the EU, Switzerland marriages are therefore valid in these countries, too.
Besides Switzerland, same-sex marriages are legally valid and performed in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, Andorra, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, and Slovenia recognize some form of same-sex civil union. In addition, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia recognize same-sex marriages performed within the EU and grant legal residence to couples with an EU citizen.
If you plan to take up residence in Switzerland after marrying or registering a partnership, bear in mind that your foreign spouse or partner will need a residence permit and may require an entry visa.
Countries that don’t recognize gay marriage in Switzerland
Several European countries don’t recognize any form of same-sex union. Those are Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Of these, however, Croatia, Hungary, and Montenegro recognize same-sex partnerships, while Armenia recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad.
It is important to note that should you travel to these countries with your spouse, then your legal civil status as a married couple won’t hold any official value in the eyes of the law.
- The Library of Congress – read more about parliament votes to allow same-sex marriage in Switzerland
- Pink Cross – the official website of Switzerland’s national umbrella organization of gay and bisexual men
- Regenbogen Familie – a website for the umbrella organization for LGBT+ families in Switzerland
- Transgender Network Switzerland (TGNS) – a website for a Swiss organization founded in 2010 by and for transgender people
- Euro News – article on Switzerland to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage