Switzerland Votes to Approve LGBTQ Anti-Discrimination Law
The legislation aims to make public acts of homophobia illegal.
In a referendum held on Sunday, voters in Switzerland approved a bill to enhance protections for LGBTQ people by making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, according to the BBC.
The bill expands upon already existing legislation that makes racial and religious discrimination illegal. However, it will not protect people on the basis of gender identity — only sexual orientation.
During Sunday’s referendum, 63.1% of the Swiss public voted in favor of the anti-discrimination bill, while 36.9% voted against it.
Mathias Reynard, a politician from the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, praised the passing of the bill.
“This is a historic day,” Reynard told the Swiss channel RTS 1. “It gives a signal which is magnificent for everyone and for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination.”
Switzerland does not have any laws that specifically protect LGBTQ citizens from hate speech or discrimination, setting the country apart from other nations in Western Europe. The country also has yet to legalize same-sex marriage, only offering same-sex couples the option to enter into civil unions.
Under the new legislation, public discrimination or hate speech based on sexual orientation will be a fineable offense and punishable by up to three years in prison. This also means that public facilities and businesses will not be allowed to legally turn LGBTQ patrons away.
Members of the LGBTQ community in Switzerland have reported experiencing numerous physical and verbal attacks, according to the BBC. Suicide rates among LGBTQ people in Switzerland are also five times higher than those of heterosexual people.
Jessica Zuber, an independent political campaigner and consultant, says anti-discrimination laws are important to prevent homophobic attacks, adding that freedom of expression can sometimes go too far.
“Freedom of expression in a liberal democracy only goes as far as the individual right to human dignity is protected,” Zuber told the BBC, going on to claim that the new law sends a “strong sign towards the acceptance of human dignity of everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation.”
While opponents of the legislation claim that it violates freedom of opinion and expression, Swiss citizens will not be penalized for their convictions or religious beliefs.
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter also commented on the new law, claiming that voters “are saying unmistakably that hatred and discrimination have no place in our free Switzerland," the Associated Press reported.
She noted that opponents of the legislation should have nothing to fear if they remain respectful.
“Freedom of expression remains guaranteed,” she said.