Love is on the line in Switzerland’s referendum Sunday when voters will decide if same-sex couples get equal rights, including legalized marriage and the ability to adopt children.

The Swiss government strongly backs the movement, and Parliament voted in December to support same-sex marriage. Swiss voters appear to be on the same page; a survey commissioned in February by Pink Cross, a Swiss gay rights group, showed that 82% of Swiss citizens support gay marriage. 

But in the days approaching the referendum, that support appears to be waning. The latest survey by the polling organization gfs.bern found that voters who approve same-sex marriage fell to 63%, while the share of voters against rose to 35% from 29% earlier this month.

Opponents of the December decision, such as the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and conservative Christian groups, have attempted to capitalize on this growing disapproval with  media campaigns including images of babies crying to signify discontent with the ability for same-sex couples to adopt.

“Marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” Jean-Luc Addor, SVP national adviser, wrote on his party’s website. “Calling into question this founding principle of the family, the basic unit of our society, is a real revolution; it is to touch the Christian foundations of our civilization, but also and above all the natural order.”

The decision to take on same-sex marriage follows a series of conservative rulings in this country of 8.5 million people. In March, Swiss voters approved banning Muslim facial coverings in public, and in August, a provincial court ruled to reduce the sentence of a rapist on the grounds that the assault “lasted only 11 minutes.” 

In a country used to frequent referendums, LGBTQ organizers have said Sunday’s balloting is the most important sociopolitical vote in decades. Groups supporting the December legislation argue that a rejection of same-sex marriage would be a “huge catastrophe” for Switzerland.

Sunday’s vote represents a crossroads for Swiss society: whether it will maintain its conservative past, in which women only won the right to vote in 1971, or if will it choose a more socially progressive future.

Switzerland must pursue the latter, both for the benefit of Swiss society and LGBTQ citizens, says Roman Heggli, managing director of Pink Cross. “It’s really about time after more than 20 years that Switzerland finally takes this step.”

(Written by Carley Barnhart; Sept. 25, 2021) 

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