International News: Switzerland passes marriage equality

In a sweeping national referendum and with a nearly two-thirds majority of the vote, Switzerland legalized same-sex marriage on Sept. 26. 

According to results from the Swiss federal chancellery, 64.1% of the Swiss electorate voted “yes” to marriage for all to 35.9% who voted “no” with 52.6% of eligible voters participating.

Switzerland is the last of the Western European nations to legalize same-sex marriage, which began with the Netherlands in 2001. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 30 countries.

Antonia Hauswirth of the national advocacy group Marriage for All told the media, “We are very happy and relieved.”

Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter told the media, “Whoever loves each other and wants to get married will be able to do so, regardless of whether it is two men, two women, or a man and a woman. The state does not have to tell citizens how they should lead their lives.” 

Keller-Sutter set the timetable for the first same-sex marriages at July 1, 2022.

In a statement posted on the website, Alexandra Karle, Director of Amnesty International Switzerland, said, “The vote in giving same-sex couples the right to marriage and all the rights that go with it, including rights to adopt children, is an important and long overdue step towards equality.”

Karle said, “This historic vote sends a clear signal that LGBT+ people have the same rights as everyone else.”

Prior to the referendum, same-sex couples could register a civil partnership. But those civil partnerships do not give couples the same rights as marriage, most importantly; they do not allow for citizenship of a partner nor for the joint adoption of children. The law will also make it easier for foreigners married to Swiss people to get citizenship. There are currently about 700 civil partnerships of gay and lesbian couples each year in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.

The new law will allow same-sex couples to get married in civil ceremonies and adopt children. One of the most controversial elements of the referendum is allowing married lesbian couples access to sperm donation. Anti-marriage activists used children as a focal point of their negative campaign, claiming same-sex marriage was dangerous for children.

Monika Rueegger of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and a member of the anti-marriage group No to Marriage for All told Reuters she was “disappointed at the outcome” of the referendum. 

“This was not about love and feelings, it was about children’s welfare. Children and fathers are the losers here,” she told the news agency.

“The Swiss have dropped a massive ‘yes’ into the ballot box,” Olga Baranova, a spokeswoman for the “yes” committee, told the AFP news agency.

“Today does not change my country,” Baranova said. “Today reflects the change of mentality over the last 20 years. It is really the reflection of a very broad and very important acceptance of LGBT people in society.”

Two transgender women win seats in German parliament

Two German politicians from the Greens party have made history by becoming the first trans women to win parliamentary seats. Tessa Ganserer, 44, and Nyke Slawik, 27 will be members of the next German Bundestag.

The Greens party ranked third in the election, increasing its share of the vote to 14.8 percent from 8.9 percent in 2017. The Greens will now play a pivotal role in the building of a new three-way coalition government.

“It is a historic victory for the Greens, but also for the trans-emancipatory movement and for the entire queer community,” Ganserer, 44, told Reuters. Ganserer said that the election results were emblematic of “an open and tolerant society.”

Ganserer, who was elected to Bavaria’s regional parliament in 2013, campaigned in part on wanting Germany to have an easier procedure for ratifying a change of gender on identity documents. Ganserer has two sons and she also campaigned on the importance of legislative changes to allow lesbian mothers to adopt children.

Slawik called the election results “unbelievable” as she won a seat in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

“Madness! I still can’t quite believe it, but with this historic election result I will definitely be a member of the next Bundestag,” Slawik posted on Instagram.

Slawik has called for a nationwide action plan against homophobia and transphobia, a self-determination law and improvements to the federal anti-discrimination law.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Germany in 1969 and same-sex marriage legalized in 2017. But hate crimes against LGBTQ people jumped by 36 percent in 2020, according to law enforcement statistics.

Three Polish regions repeal “LGBT-free zone” declarations

Three Polish regional councils voted on Monday Sept. 27 to repeal motions declaring their provinces “LGBT-free zones,”the state-run news agency PAP reported. The European Union had previously threatened to withdraw funding from the regions.

Numerous local authorities in Poland declared themselves free of “LGBT ideology” in 2019. The action was part of an escalating factionalism in the predominantly Catholic and right-wing country. President Andrzej Duda has campaigned on anti-gay policy and courted religious conservatives. Duda and his party have presented the LGBT+ civil rights struggle as a threat to “traditional” family values.

The European Commission says the zones may violate E.U. law regarding nondiscrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and cautioned Poland over the past months about the zones and other discriminatory actions.

Officials in the southeasterly Podkarpackie and Lubelskie provinces and in the southerly Malopolskie province, three of nearly a hundred municipalities and provinces that adopted motions declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology,” all voted to repeal the motions on Monday.

In Podkarpackie, a new resolution entitled “Podkarpackie as a region of well-established tolerance” was passed. In Lubelskie, officials passed a motion entitled “On the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“We see a special need to protect schools and families and the right of every person to self-determination,” PAP quoted the latter document as saying.

“At the same time, we support the right of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs,” it said.

The European Commission wrote to five Polish regional councils at the beginning of September urging them to abandon declarations that they are “LGBT-free” in order to receive funding.